By Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan
ABA Bank Marketing , Vol. 39, No. 5
You only use 10 percent of your brain." It's surprising how many people believe that statement. After all, if we only used 10 percent of our brains, it would sure make brain damage a lot less worrisome.
"You only use 10 percent of your brain" is an urban legend, just like many others you've probably heard: The organ thieves who steal the kidneys of unsuspecting travelers. The gang members who drive on roadways with their lights off, then kill the first driver who flashes his lights at them. The McDonald's executives who secretly support the Church of Satan.
Because urban legends are false ideas that have gained broad acceptance as troth, it's worth studying them as ideas. Why do these ideas succeed while other ideas fail? After all, the urban legends are competing for "brain space" with all sorts of other ideas, from the profound to the mundane: details of the new Medicare plan, the latest celebrity gossip, the news from Iraq, the day's list of to-dos and scads of others. Urban legends are "sticky" ideas-they are understandable and memorable and they change attitudes and behavior. What makes these false ideas so sticky?
In our book "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die," we analyze why urban legends succeed in the marketplace of ideas. More importantly, we study what can be learned from urban legends--and other successful ideas--that can help you make your own ideas stick, whether you're communicating with the press, the public or customers of your financial institution.
What successful ideas have in common
What we realized in studying urban legends is that they share a common structure. For instance, urban legends almost always reveal something surprising: You only use 10 percent of your brain! (Wow, think how much smarter I'd be if I could use 25 percent!) Urban legends are always chock full of concrete, sensory images: The guy who wakes up in a bathtub full of ice--missing a kidney! The Kentucky Fried Rat! (Don't ask.) And urban legends are almost always told as stories: A friend of friend of mine told me about the time when ...
Urban legends are fascinating, as a class of ideas, because they stick naturally. There are no resources behind urban legends--no ad budgets, no PR flacks, no spin doctors. They are ideas that spread and stick on their own merits. Why? Because they share a common anatomy. They share a common set of traits that make them more likely to stick.
And here's file real whopper of a twist: It's not just urban legends that share these trails. It's every kind of successful idea--proverbs, public health campaigns, political slogans, high school history lessons, sermons and mission statements. Sticky ideas of all kinds share a handful of traits. Urban legends derive their strength from these principles--but so do tree, useful ideas. There are six principles that unite sticky ideas--but before we unpack them, let's look at a real-world sticky idea in action. A classic example comes from the early 1990s, when a man named Art Silverman changed the nation's snacking habits with a single sticky idea.
A valuable idea that looks like an urban legend
In 1992, a man named Art Silverman was straggling with how to create a message that would stick with the American public. Silverman worked for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit group that educates the public about nutrition. CSPI's leaders had become suspicious about the nutritional profile of movie popcorn. To test their suspicions, they sent bags of movie popcorn, from a dozen theaters in three major cities, to a lab for nutritional analysis. The results surprised everyone.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that a normal diet contain no more than 20 grams of saturated fat each day. According to the lab results, the typical bag of popcorn had 37 grams.
The culprit was coconut oil, which theaters used to poop their popcorn. …