Newsletter

Hit Makers – 106

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson discusses why and how things become popular. He has thoroughly researched his material and the book is written in a storytelling manner which lends itself fantastically to audio. I highly recommend this book for its educational value as well as how easy and enjoyable it is to read (or listen to). You will get a lot out of this book whether you read it for leisure or to self-educate. I highly recommend this book.

My observation of the author’s work is that that there are 2 ways in which something can become popular, organically or promoted. I have seen this many times outside the book. In social media advertising regarding content there are organic vs. paid views. Analytics are gathered and classified as organic when the post receives views naturally, usually based on the value of the post. One can also pay for views which can be considered advertising (boost your post). These are considered paid views. Likewise a song can become a hit organically if it is great and gets circulated by a fan base (which includes DJ’s and non-paid reviews by popular people). Also a song can be promoted (pushed) by a label and through intentional means become a hit.

We grow to like something the more we are exposed to it.
Good work naturally rises to the top. (organic)
Promoted songs can become chart toppers based on exposure. (promoted)
People can develop an immunity to irritating content or over-exposure such as commercials.

Personal anecdote: I went to a country bar to take swing dance lessons. They played country music mixed in with the dance music, and after the lesson it was mostly country. I eventually grew to like country. I never liked the old school twangy country, and I do like modern country, so it could have been a combination of exposure and the modernization of the country music genre that caused me to like it.

Organic ideas can be like a pressure cooker over time, the artist builds skill or a body of work, creates a following and marches towards critical mass until the artist and the art can no longer be unknown.
the work or the artist gets picked up in a popular news feed or reviewed in an outlet (like the TV show Oprah), the one to many (millions) multiplier effect kicks in.
One good idea or funny thing gets shared and a geometric multiplying factor happens.

My impression from the book was that few mega-popular people are the ones who actually cause popularity to occur. This may be a nuanced point but I believe it works with more people who are less popular, maybe hundreds or thousands of followers vs. the handful of people who have millions of followers. There is probably some sliding scale where the majority of “viral” ideas are popularized by a bell shaped curve.

Chewbacca Mom is an example of an average person’s video going “viral”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3yRv5Jg5TI

The author states “Quality, it seems, is a necessary, but insufficient attribute for success.”
And I’d like to add that the quality is very subjective. There are some TV shows and songs that I find total rubbish, however they are mega hits. I guess they better not put me in charge of picking the new hits. LOL.

People are both “neophilic – curious to discover new things – and deeply neophobic – afraid of anything that’s too new. I see a parallel in political views. Conservatives hold value in old and traditional ways (neophobic) while liberals and progressives embrace change (neophilic).

The author describes a hit such as a song or movie as containing both novel and familiar elements. There is enough familiar in it for the audience to relate and enough new for there to be a freshness about it. Star Wars and Brahm’s Lullaby are used in the book as 2 examples. Star wars has many elements of the traditional Hero’s Journey
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey
and Lullaby has origins in a folksong that was widely known back in the day.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahms%27_Lullaby

The author discusses how going viral is nothing like a virus. With a virus the spread of the contagion occurs from one individual to another single individual and repeated many times. In modern life when a YouTube video or social media meme goes viral it occurs when a few people with a very large audience shares it. One-to-many such as a book appearing on Oprah.

Some trends grow in popularity then lose their appeal over time. The laugh track on TV sitcoms is one example. TV shows were recorded in front of live audiences to give it more of a “fresh” and real feeling. Then the audience was dropped, I assume because of budget or time constraints, so they added a laugh track and played it every time something funny happened. As TV evolved to more a movie-like feel, the laugh track became a parody of itself. Movies are “big-time” and TV wanted to emulate this, so they did away with TV like things and now TV shows are like short movies.

Bill Haley, a half-blind self-taught guitarist, wanted to record a song titled Rock Around the Clock. Essex label founder ripped up the sheet music in front of him. Haley decided to go to Decca, who required him to record a song “13 Women”, which was about man who is custodian of a harem after an H-bomb destroys the world. Rock Around the Clock was put on the B-side and mostly forgotten about. 2 years later it was used to kick off the movie Blackboard Jungle. A leading actor in the movie, Glen Ford, asked his son what kids today were listening to. His son showed him a couple songs including Rock Around the Clock. Ford brought the song to director Richard Brooks and the rest is history.
This is an example of how a good body of work may not make it to the spotlight, but becomes an underground hit. Then it is featured on a one-to-many distribution source and goes big.

Raymond Loewy created MAYA which means Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. Examples of this were discussed such as mimeographs, trashbins, bullet-shaped train locomotives, Coldspot refrigerators, and Lucky Strike cigarette packs.

“MAYA offers three clear lessons. First: Audiences don’t know everything, but they know more than creators do. Second: To sell something familiar, make it surprising. To sell something surprising, make it familiar. Third: People sometimes don’t know what they want until they already love it.”
My interpretation of how MAYA works, and the neophilic vs neophobic syndrome is this: Imagine a bell distribution curve. To the left is complete newness, to the right is total familiarity. The highest desirability is in the middle somewhere, where novelty mixes with familiarity. At the extremes, the idea is less liked. Too new and people can’t relate to it, too familiar and it’s a copy, a worn out song on the radio. I wonder if relationships are like this as well.

Casandra syndrome – occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. Also
when someone has a realization and nobody believes them. I see an example of this is when Michael Burry profits from creating credit default swaps by betting against market-based mortgage-backed securities. One way you can be victim of the Casandra syndrome is if you see a black swan event (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) coming before anyone else, but nobody will believe you. This does happen every once in a while due to the law of large numbers. Easily foreseen events are acted upon frequently because they are easily seen. This is why Black Swan events are so impactful.

 Caillebotte, whose collection became the Impressionist canon

“the impressionist canon focuses on a tight cluster of seven core painters: Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley – the Caillebotte Seven. When painter and collector Gustave Caillebotte donated his art collection upon his untimely death, his donation helped to create the impressionist canon. The power of repeated exposure, whether it is paintings that are exhibited or other things is a powerful tool in determining what is a hit.

What makes a song succeed? “Even at the dawn of the American music business, to make a song a hit, a memorable melody was secondary to an ingenious marketing campaign.”

The author makes a note how people claim that new forms of media kill old ones. Newspapers, radio, TV, internet. VHS, DVD, Netflix. The truth is that the popularity of media evolves, yes. However older forms of media still exist. Despite the internet we still have magazines, newspapers, and radio/TV shows. However people do prefer on-demand vs. broadcast due to its’ convenience, binge watching ability, and an all-you-can-eat plan.

“Does great art begin with feedback, or does it start with the opposite–a quiet space, devoid of distractions, where creators can turn the spotlight inward and make something mostly for themselves?”

“perhaps the best writers also knew to just do the work and forget, for a moment, that anyone would ever read their reverie”

Many works of art were undervalued or underappreciated in their day. Some because of feedback loop, others because ahead of their time (maybe too much novelty, not enough familiarity?).
https://www.scoopwhoop.com/People-Talent-Only-Recognized-After-Death/#.2e06i4f9p
http://www.webdesignschoolsguide.com/library/10-artists-not-appreciated-in-their-time.html

“there is such a thing as too much familiarity. It’s everywhere, in fact. It’s hearing a catchy song for the tenth time in a row, watching a movie that is oh so predictably uncreative, or hearing a talented speaker use over familiar buzzword after buzzword. In fluency studies, the power of familiarity is discounted when people realize that the moderator is trying to browbeat them with the same stimulus again and again. This is one reason why so much advertising doesn’t work: People have a built-in resistance to marketing that feels like it’s trying to seduce them.”

Facebook changed news delivery. Many people get news from Facebook now. Facebook has algorithms that control what comments and news and ads you see. Facebook likes, shares and comments pour into an algorithm that is constantly reordering the feed to surface the most relevant stuff at the top. People who see positive articles are more positive in their posts, and likewise for negative articles. Moods are contagious.

Click-bait headlines: “Wonder about/if you think. The answer will surprise you.”

Aspirational vs. actual behavior
McDonalds offers healthy options on the menu to get you in the door. (aspirational behavior) However when the people ordered food, unhealthy decisions outnumber healthy ones. (actual behavior).

Kay Kamen (Herman Samuel Kominetsky) Baltimore, Russian emigre, hs dropout, juvenile penitentiary in teens, selling mink hats in Nebraska, unattractive but successful salesman, in 1920s, specialized in developing products based on movies, 1932 saw Mickey Mouse cartoon and recognized the mouse could be a star beyond movies, called walt and Roy: “let me sell your cartoon mouse.” He suggested move MM out of dime store into dept stores, which was where consumers were moving.
Signed to license Disney character merchandising worldwide. Hollywood regarded toys as ads for movies. Kamen saw the money in merchandising. Biggest: Mickey Mouse watch, which debuted Chicago World Fair in 1933.

People find a blend of many average faces more attractive to a classically attractive face. Apparently average is attractive.

People are born average (homogeneous) and die unique (specialized).

Radio airplay products of testing and distribution strategies that ran on sheet music and shoe leather.
SPotify playlist by Napster cofounder Sean Parker credited with launching Lorde’s “Royals” 2013. Tastemakers. Call Me Maybe didn’t take off for a year until Justin Bieber praised it on Twitter.

HitPredictor (iHeart Media, the largest owner of radio stations in the US), predicts based on playing a hook from a new song to online audience 3 times — to capture the catchiness in a vacuum, numerical rating. But: every year catchy songs don’t become hits.

Streaming internet radio station was picking songs it thought listeners liked. Then the database was erased and they started from scratch.

2016 politics changed. Candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio had the elite party support but flamed out. “The GOP candidate with the least elite support, Donald Trump, spent less than $20 million on advertising. But he still won the primary in a landslide, because his outrageous statements and improbable candidacy were such irresistible fodder for networks and publishers desperate for audiences. Through the summer of 2016, Trump had earned $3 billion in “free media”, which was more than the rest of his rivals combined.”
The more things you are asked to remember about a person you like, the less you are to like the person after making the list. Fewer is better.People remember songs for their chorus. Hook in speeches too.
Repetition has made aphorisms sound true. “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit….an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Definition:

aphorism – a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”.

Speeches — Yes we can, repetition of epistrophe. Speechmaking tricks: rhetorical inversion: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s size of the fight in the dog, ABBADale Carnegie: Arguments: If you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions..
To be interesting, be interested.
Shared experience – goosebumps
The author used 50 Shades of Grey as a viral myth. He states that the author E.L. James went through stages of success. A FanFiction.net fan recast Twilight’s Edward as CEO with flair for bondage and was re-titled as “50 Shades of Grey” by E.L. James. James received a following online and had modest success. DivaMom and others evangelized the e-book, giving it a springboard to larger audiences. Best Romance nominated in 2011 based on Goodreads reviews. Morning TV talk-show interviews followed. Publications like Wallstreet Journal and the New York Times praised the author’s works.
Analogies to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point:
Connectors – people who know others, super connectors are like celebs or bloggers with millions of followers
Mavins – expert in the field, initiates discussions
Salesmen – persuasive people, charismatic, influencers
Stickyness factor – similar to 50 Shades that was very popular and well liked, memorable
Power of Context – Broken windows policy, subway graffiti. I see this as social proof and exposure over time. If the graffiti is cleaned up immediately people will think of the area as safe and clean. Let graffiti accumulate and the exposure proves that the area is run down.
2017-05-05T02:22:16+00:00