Marketplace Scratch Pad

From totally chic to totally geek

Scott Jagow Aug 10, 2009

I have a theory that most people perpetually live in a high school state of mind when it comes to trends and fads. A new study backs me up on this, so marketers, you might want to pay attention. You don’t want your product to get too hot too fast.

This is an academic paper, so it has the title, How Adoption Speed Affects the Abandonment of Cultural Tastes, but the ideas are fairly easy to explain. Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger is among the researchers. He studied the popularity and decline of baby names throughout the 20th century, but broadens his research to talk about products, songs and other things. His basic premise is that if something catches on too quickly, it tends to burn out faster. From the Wall Street Journal:

In 2004, he found that college students at Stanford University were less likely to wear the popular yellow “Livestrong” wristbands when students who lived in the “geek dorm” sported them. When accountants start driving Harley Davidson motorcycles, the tough image of a hog dissolves. Original bikers may abandon, fearing being perceived as wannabes.

“The more you study these things,” Prof. Berger says, “the more difficult it is to consume anything at all.”

Amen. From Knowledge at Wharton:

In the end, would Berger suggest that marketers actually attempt to push less strenuously to gain popularity for a product? He says the answer depends on what is being sold. For largely functional items that do not communicate much cultural identity, such as a disk drive, there is little risk of too much popularity coming too soon. “But you might want to think about [this issue] in a domain that people use to communicate to others,” he says. “I’m not suggesting that a manager doesn’t want the product to catch on at all or to take too long to become popular. But too quickly might be damaging. You don’t want it to catch on too quickly or people might say, ‘This is here today, gone tomorrow.'”

There isn’t any groundbreaking insight in the research. It’s just fun to talk about. It makes me think of Hootie and the Blowfish. And Members Only jackets. And Laserdiscs. And Twitter?


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