Posted on behalf of Amy Wang

The sixth and final principle of contagiousness that Jonah Berger discusses in the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On is “Stories.” According to Berger, creating word of mouth is critical in making products, ideas, and behaviors spread. Stories, as opposed to advertisements and facts, provide an engaging and easily transmittable medium through which people can unintentionally share information that promotes a service, idea, organization, etc.

First, stories are often entertaining, more engrossing than basic facts, and thus get passed along, reaching a large number of individuals. Second, stories often teach an important lesson or convey information and facts (that “come along for the ride” and may not necessarily be the focal point of the narrative itself). Third, stories are often believed more wholeheartedly than other methods of relaying knowledge as they come from personal accounts and experiences. People are less likely to argue against stories than against advertising claims, and in the end, are more likely to be persuaded. In these ways, stories capture people’s attentions, create conversation, and along the way, pass around information that ultimately promotes products, ideas, or messages that are embedded within the narrative.

From product recommendations to viral videos, people create narratives (intentionally or not) that carry a lesson, moral, or take-home message. Instead of listing the features of a jacket, for example, a review that describes how the jacket had the perfect warmth and comfort level when climbing through the highest peaks of Colorado is certainly creating a narrative that is more likely to be taken into consideration and talked about. Another example relates to a video campaign sponsored by Dove that shows the behind-the-scenes processes into making images of supermodels that have helped create today’s beauty standards. The video-story sparked discussion and conversation about an important issue, but it also directed peoples’ attentions to Dove and their products, which helped the company gain millions of dollars in exposure. So, instead of presenting information in a straightforward, fact-based manner, presenting or creating content that includes the product or idea that is meant to be promoted through narratives can increase contagiousness.

This principle can be used in community health interventions by depicting the personal narratives and experiences of individuals who have been using such services successfully. Also, by creating content that shows how individuals from all backgrounds can actively participate in the community health program through a narrative-like manner, the idea of the program may catch peoples’ attentions more successfully and catch on to new audiences.

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