Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Science of Popularity: Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

In his grandparent's home in Metro Detroit, Derek Thompson's mother sang him a lullaby in German. He later realized the song was not a unique family tradition, but the universally popular Brahms lullaby, "Lullaby, and good night," published in 1868.

Thompson asks, how did this tune spread world-wide? There were no radio broadcasts, recordings, or cable television to disseminate the song. It was brought to America in the late 19th c by immigrant Germans.

Thompson then turns his attention to art, presenting the history of famous impressionist paintings, collected by wealthy artist Caillebotte, and donated to France. These paintings by artists like Manet and Monet were the ones that did not sell; now these artists and paintings are now considered the core group of artists we call Impressionists. How did the paintings no one wanted to buy become recognized as the great examples of Impressionist art?

Can popularity be predicted, manufactured, or marketed? How do ideas and fads spread? Why do some things catch on while others fail? How has the information age changed how popularity spreads?

In The Hit Makers Atlantic editor Derek Thompson presents interesting historical and contemporary examples of successful 'hits' that illustrate how success works.

I was captivated and fascinated by this book. The implications of Thompson's analysis has universal applications, including psychology, sociology, entertainment, and business.

Thompson explains that people feel comfortable with what they know--but familiarity gets stale. People reject something that is too outside their comfort level. Creators and Makers have to tweak the familiar to make it new, but not too new.

Means to becoming a hit includes the repetition of catch words that make speeches or advertising memorable; building on an existing fan base to guarantees users; and popular individuals influencing millions through social media.

I will be mulling this over for a long time as I watch for emerging 'hits' and think about how they came to be.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
Derek Thompson
Penguin Press
Publication Feb 7, 2017
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 9781101980323

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