Toppling The Tipping Point

Duncan Watts, a Columbia University sociology professor, is rocking boats with his challenge to the influencer model that much modern day marketing relies upon.
Brandweek endeavored to speak with Mr. Watts abou this ideas.

Brandweek: Why aren’t influentials as influential as everyone thinks?
Watts: Common sense notions of cause and effect are deeply misleading with respect to social processes. It is relatively easy for us to imagine how we might influence a single individual, or as an individual, be influenced (although even that is more subtle and complicated than you would think). So it’s tempting to think that influencing a lot of people is just like influencing an individual many times over (mass media marketing is, in effect, based on this simple principle). And from this reasoning, it follows that the more people you influence directly, the more important you are. This statement sounds like nothing so much as common sense, which is exactly what it is. And because it sounds so much like common sense, no one has really thought to challenge it. But it’s wrong. Or more precisely, it is not clearly correct, and when investigated carefully, it turns out often to be wrong.

Precisely why it is wrong will clearly need more investigation. For further study, Ad Age offers a piece on him, and Johnnie Moore made an insightful post last spring. “What this opens up for me is the possibility that those we identify as the firestarters are themselves the effect of a series of more complex causes,” Moore writes.
If you really want to dive into this material, here’s the source: “Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation” (originally published in Journal of Consumer Research).



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.