In his upcoming book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Wharton Marketing Professor Jonah Berger looks at what it takes for ideas to go viral. After pouring over market research and branding success stories, Berger concludes that one of the keys to gaining traction is by giving an idea “social currency.”To illustrate his point, Berger shares the results of a recent study highlighting our obsession with social status:
A few years ago, students at Harvard University were asked to make a seemingly straightforward choice: which would they prefer, a job where they made $50,000 a year (option A) or one where they made $100,000 a year (option B)?
Seems like a no-brainer right? Everyone should take option B. But there was one catch. In option A, the students would get paid twice as much as others, who would only get $25,000. In option B, they would get paid half as much as others, who would get $200,000. So option B would make the students more money overall, but they would be doing worse than others around them.
What did the majority of people choose? Option A. They preferred to do better than others, even if it meant getting less for themselves.
Berger goes on to say that the smartest marketers play upon the innate desire we all have for status — e.g., airlines like Delta have got this down to a fine art with their frequent flyer status rewards programs.
“People love boasting about the things they’ve accomplished,” he writes. “After all, what good is status if no one knows you have it?”
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