Contagion: Making sense of a marketing epidemic

David Penn
Conquest Research

Advances in viral marketing and social media have made buzz the hot topic of 2010. This paper reports on the development and validation of a new research approach, which taps into the causes of contagiousness. It shows that there is a lot more to contagion than either word-of-mouth or emotional engagement.

INTRODUCTION

What's the Buzz?

The last decade has perhaps been the most exciting in the history of marketing and advertising. We've seen our traditional view of the consumer as a rational, autonomous individual overturned by new thinking from neuroscience and sociology. We now readily accept the power of unconscious and emotional forces, and believe that social influence (peer to peer) is at least as important an influence on what the customer thinks as the messages that marketers broadcast via traditional media.

Indeed, there's been no going back since brain imaging first gave us a glimpse of a world beyond our conscious awareness. Emotion – once a largely ignored field of cognitive psychology – has become accepted as a major spring of consumer behaviour. So much so, that many advertisers now view the creation of emotional engagement as their primary objective.