Impossible to Ignore

Have you ever shared something on Facebook that you found really interesting, only to have it met with virtual silence? Your post probably did not follow Carmen Simon’s checklist for memorable content. Simon’s book, Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions recommends these 15 variables to influence people’s memory: context, cues, distinctiveness, emotion, novelty, surprise, relevance, repetition, facts, familiarity, motivation, social aspects, sensory intensity, quantity of information and self-generated content. Don’t worry, you don’t have to use all of these – just choose a few!

This week’s reading discusses a similar topic as my previous post, Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. I will use the same examples from that post to highlight how they used Simon’s variables, ultimately leading to contagiousness and memorability.

Example 1: “Friday” by Rebecca Black

Variables Used: Repetition, Cues

Rebecca Black is a song about a young girl who, in summary, is super excited that it’s Friday. I know this because she says “Friday” and “weekend” approximately 50 times throughout the song. Just check out the chorus:

It’s Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
Friday, Friday
Gettin’ down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend

Repetition of the word “Friday” is the cue, or as Berger would say, trigger, that drove the success of this viral hit. According to Simon, a cue should get people from Point A to B. As per the graph I shared last week, searches for the song on Friday peaked on Fridays. This is likely thanks to the heavy repetition and strong cue.

Example 2: United Breaks Guitars

Variables Used: Emotion, Facts, Distinctiveness

As discussed in my previous post, this video went viral because of it stirred the emotion of viewers. The reason people were able to feel the singer’s anger was because he provided all the details and facts, such as flying from Chicago to Nebraska and exchanging a look of terror with his bandmates after seeing the guitar getting tossed. The video was distinctive as it was unique to react to bad customer service with a song – particularly country, a typically mellow genre!

Example 3: Movember

Variables Used: Motivation, Relevance, Context

This one is pretty straightforward. Men grow out facial hair for a good cause – motivation, check. The month November rhymes with Movember and “mo” is short for mustache – relevance, check. All men are invited to join in, so many are growing out facial hair at the same time – context, check!

Example 4: Never Say No To Panda

Variables Used: Sensory Intensity, Surprise

According to Simon, one way to achieve sensory intensity is by “linking abstract words to concrete pictures.” Normally, one would not link a panda to cheese. Yet, an Egyptian cheese company, Panda, found a way to bring these two unlikely words together. In a series of commercials, someone in a panda suit confronts people who say “no” to Panda cheese. The commercials typically go as follows:

Person A offers cheese to Person B. Person B says no. Soft, romantic song plays. Someone in a panda suit emerges and stares down Person B. Surprise – the person in the panda suit knocks everything down around them in retaliation. Text appears: “Never Say No To Panda.” Tell me you wouldn’t remember that every time you go to the cheese aisle!

Example 5: Kylie Jenner Lip Kit

Variables Used: Novelty, Self-Generated Content, Familiarity, Quantity of Information, Social Aspects


Kylie Cosmetics lip kits, packaging and card

Okay, you caught me. This example was not in my last post, but I just had to include it because it covers five variables! Kylie Jenner is the queen of getting social media attention, or, at least, she shares the crown with her sisters. The Kardashians and Jenners, undeniably, create memorable content.

Kylie’s lip kits, which consist of a liquid lipstick and lip liner, recently launched with huge success, and continue to sell out within minutes of restocks. I have to disclose that I bought one – I just had to see what the hype was about! The verdict: the two products alone are nothing revolutionary. In fact, some makeup bloggers claim the formula is almost identical to ColourPop, a brand which sells the liquid lipstick at a fraction of the price. But the fact that she sold them together in a kit is where the novelty lies.

After announcing that she would soon be starting a cosmetics line, Kylie took to her Snapchat to show her fans sneak peeks of the colors that were soon to launch. She swatched, or tried on, the lip kits on herself, her sisters and her friends. This self-generated content made fans feel like they were getting a kit with a personal touch, which is exactly what Kylie was going for. In fact, anyone who buys a kit gets a hand-written, signed card from Kylie thanking them for their support. This content and personal touch gave followers a sense of familiarity with the brand, which would later translate into action. It also helps that people are hyper-familiar with the Kardashians and Jenners already.

Meanwhile, on Instagram, Kylie started a business account under the username kyliecosmetics. This page posted less frequently than Kylie’s personal account and was a more professional, sharing close-ups of the packaging, colors, and so on. By regulating the quantity of information, she strategically did not overload her fans with too much content. In fact, providing less made people want more.

Perhaps the most important element of the lip kit craze was the social aspect. Makeup bloggers wanted to get their hands on the kits so they could be the first to review them. Their mixed reviews caused people to want to get the kit so they could decide for themselves. Regardless of whether you had something positive or negative to say, just having the kit gave you something to discuss. Or, as Jonah Berger would say, it gave them social currency.

Netflix and Motivation

Our client, Netflix, often misses the motivation variable. While its users do currently prefer Netflix over other streaming sites, but there is no way to guarantee their long-term loyalty. Implementing a loyalty system would be a way to motivate users to stick with Netflix. For example, if a user watches 150+ hours of content per month, they could become a Netflix Red member and gain access to more content. This has the potential to take off on social media as well, with users poking fun at how they binge-watch so much that Netflix decided to make them a special member.


Contagious Review

Ever wondered what makes certain content go viral? Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On answers this question in six principles or “STEPPS,” as illustrated in the graphic below.

Principle 1: Social Currency

Social currency is obtained by sharing something that makes you look good. One way to provide people with this currency is to make people feel like insiders. Brands with game mechanics, such as airlines with frequent flier points and privilege clubs, make people feel like they are part of something exclusive.

Principle 2: Triggers

“Top of the mind, tip of the tongue” is the premise behind this method. Berger suggests setting up relevant triggers that relate to your brand and will regularly remind people of it. “Friday” by Rebecca Black was a song that went viral on YouTube, not because it was a good, but because people would remember the song every Friday. The triggers must be frequent and strong, and not associated with too many other things.



Principle 3: Emotion

If people care, they will share. Content makes people experience high arousal feelings is more likely to go viral. Just watch the “United Breaks Guitars” video on YouTube that made people feel anger on behalf of Dave Caroll, the man who had his guitar broken by United Airlines.



Principle 4: Public

If something is out in the open, it is easier to discuss and share. “Built to show, built to grow.” The best example of this is Movember, where men take the private matter of prostate and testicular cancer and make it public by growing out facial hair during the month of November.

Principle 5: Practical Value

People like helping others and feeling useful, so content with practical value is often likely to be shared. Most of the communication work I do involves spreading practical information to our university students. For example, we recently completed an Instagram Boomerang safety campaign, to help in case of an emergency in our new building.

Principle 6: Stories

Humans love telling and listening to stories, especially ones that have a moral. In order to use stories as a successful tool, the story and moral must be relevant to the brand. In other words, the you should aim for not just virality, but “valuable virality.” Watch “Never Say No to Panda” for a great example of a simple story with a funny message.


I strongly agreed with the principle of social currency as a contributor to contagiousness. I experienced this in my junior and senior year in high school, when a rule came out that only older students would be given the privilege to go to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf during breaks. The cafeteria was still available, but of course, my classmates and I chose CBTL every break. Students who showed up late had to-go cups in hand and would use the walk from CBTL as their excuse. People made time to hang out there, even during finals. The café became so exclusive and in-demand that younger students would try to sneak in. This scarcity and exclusivity made word-of-mouth about CBTL spread all over the school.

However, I found the principle of triggers to be logical for brands or products, but difficult to apply to professional organizations. I work for Northwestern University, which already has triggers set up, such as Wildcats and the color purple. These triggers work but likely would not go viral, because Wildcats don’t come to mind frequently enough and the color purple is linked with so many other things. It is difficult to apply the principle of triggers to a professional organization that already has well-established branding.

Netflix and Stories

My team’s client, Netflix, could benefit the most from the stories principle. Recently, I watched the show Narcos. I was surprised to learn that it was based on a real person, Pablo Escobar. The authenticity made it even more entertaining, which caused me to recommend it to friends. Netflix could create a new category titled “Based on a True Story,” where shows like Narcos could be highlighted.  People could then watch similar shows and spread the word about all the true stories on Netflix.