Phenomenon that takes off the ground and reaches the tipping point

Written by Julia Persson

Superfood as a phenomenon

Have you ever tried having an ice cream made of frozen bananas and peas, or does this super food phenomenon sounds unfamiliar to you and makes you frown?  However, this sticky trend or social phenomenon has taken the digital world with storm. Each day new Instagram accounts pops up like mushrooms after rain, and some accounts have several thousands of followers which are usually led by those so called lead users holding perfect body goals and beauty. Although, the questions is how a phenomenon like this can emerge so fast from nowhere and get such a contagious impact that potentially can change a society over a night?

Regardless on the number of followers and likes people tend to have, there seems at least to be one common stickiness factor that makes people thrilled and go bananas out there.  Its “everyday food” to see how people and not only lead-users adopt to this phenomenon and proudly expose their healthy lifestyles, either by posing in their brand new Calvin Klein set while working out or by holding a smoothie filled with nutrients they are ready to indoctrinate their bodies with.  This phenomenon is widely alive among lead users and members as they gladly comment and interact to their peers by expressing their latest successful recipes,
followed by hash tags like #foodporn #greenisthenewblack #bodylicious etc.

  Figure 1, Image source (Theguardian, 2015)

Figure 1, Image source (Theguardian, 2015)

According to Mintel (2016) there has been a significant 202 % boost in the super food industry between the years of 2011-2015. This phenomenon can be defined as either food or drinks that are labeled as “superfood”, “super grain” or “super fruit”(Mintel, 2016). This rapidly increased interest for super food known to be good for a persons well-being can be linked to higher consumer involvement, awareness and interest for how certain food is produced (Fabrizio, 2016).  However, few years ago before this trend took off it was seen as uncommon but now it is obvious how people join this trend and how “Wellness Bloggers” drive informative Instagram accounts or Blogs about healthy food and nutrition’s (theguardian, 2015).

 “Unmask” the secret

Although marketing usually are seen as a black box of ever-changing rules of the game (Fagerberg et al., 2005), the purpose with this blogpost is to examine how the stickiness factor, the law of the few/lead users and the power of the context together function as crucial bricks determining whether a phenomenon either will reach the tipping point or might be met by hostility (Gladwell, 2005). By identifying this process it can be understandable how certain phenomenon’s can give benefit to brands not initially linked to the phenomenon.                                 

The contagious epidemic

It´s obvious how prior conventional dialogues primarily focusing on brands and held by companies are replaced with multiple-to-multiple communication whereas consumers are empowered to interact directly to peers and not necessarily to firms (Christodoulides, 2009).  By the advent of web 2.0 the control freaks also known as brand managers have lost their power and branding have taken a different approach where consumers have occupied an active role as they participate in co-creation of meanings (Christodoulides, 2009).  This collaborative fashion seems to be a result of that content is continuously modified, shared and interchanged among users that actually can control every stage of the communication process to a very low cost. This increased space for self-expression and social connection has inclined flexibility but also the senses for a brand as truly open, authentic and filled with intangible intentions (Vernuccio, 2014).

“The law of the few”

However, In order to put the social power into its context, a contagious phenomenon can be translated to an epidemic which impact are related to typically three factors: The law of the few, stickiness factor and power of context (Gladwell, 2000). Epidemics tip because something has occurred and it is dependent on people that transmit infectious agents, the transferable agent itself and right conditions to grow. In order to grow, work has to be done and according to the 80/20 principle, 80 % of the job will be carried out by 20 percent of the participants regardless on the situation.  Surprisingly this disproportion is even more colossal when it comes to epidemics, which are only transmitted by a tiny percent (Gladwell, 2000). 

  Figure 2, Image source (Legacy-dna, 2015)

Figure 2, Image source (Legacy-dna, 2015)

Thus, this principle tells us how heavily dependent epidemics or phenomenon’s are on individuals with certain unusual social gifts and skills for exchanging rare but efficient word-of-mouth impulses.  Those are known as Connectors since they are the certain people who know everyone and the ones we heavily rely on, more than we realize, whereas the “law of the few” makes sense (Gladwell, 2000).

This is mirroring the Digital Web as strongly governed and influenced by those few percent of a society that are gifted with certain qualifications. They are bloggers, entrepreneurs and trendsetters promoting certain lifestyles, products and thus brands because they favor it. Further, epidemics ease our understanding for how certain brands can profit from arising phenomenon’s by being used and normalized in certain settings. They might be unaware or aware of theirs rare social “gifts” and strengths; however do lead-users have authority to awake future trends and desires among consumers just by their presence. This is evident in the Super food phenomenon where you often can experience those admirable lead-users, which typically are young entrepreneurs earning money either by promoting products for companies or by doing their own start-ups like the trendy “fashionista” KockeniKlackar that knows how to package and promote her products as well as messages in an appropriate way. Since her account is popular in the super food context you could might imagine how other products like certain cutleries or home furnishing can be beneficially promoted by just appearing in her flow.

  Figure 3, Image source Instagram (KockeniKlackar, 2016)

Figure 3, Image source Instagram (KockeniKlackar, 2016)

The Stickiness Factor

The virus is further highly contagious accordingly to what extent it is associated with a particular person but also dependent on how the message could be passed on, also known as the stickiness factor (Gladwell, 2000). In order for an epidemic to have valuable impact, the messenger that makes something spread needs the necessary quality and content in order to be remembered and transferred.  The stickiness factor is much dependent on to which degree it´s packaged so that it can creates changes as well as actions (Gladwell, 2000).

  Figure 4, Image source (Toyoutheartist, 2016)  

Figure 4, Image source (Toyoutheartist, 2016) 

Influencers and entrepreneurs like KockeniKlackar is great evidence for how the package of the message should be distributed in order to earn a unique room in consumers’ unconsciousness and increase the stickiness factor.  This interaction between consumers that takes part enable both lead-user and followers to exchange knowledge, images, hash tags, comments and thus produce a desired self through their possessions (Schau & Gilly, 2003). This involvement will make people feel more meaningful but might also more positive towards brands that seem to be perceived as more authentic. As stated above, when people are triggered to change by a well transparent message this potentially will lead to a greater stickiness among target groups and thus a significant boom can be expected.

According to Gladwell (2000) this stickiness can be the collaboration between typically three actors called the Mavens, salesmen and the connectors/lead-users. Mavens are the ones that read more magazines than rest of us do and they also know things that rest of us don´t. Since mavens have the genuine intention to help it turns out to be a shockingly efficient way of getting someone’s attention and thus starting a word-of-mouth. Salesmen on the other hand, are the ones that know more people than anyone else and basically they can sell everything due to their strong skill to persuade all unconvinced. Finally the connectors, which are the social glue, will spread the message to the many people. Although there is a small but critical distinction between how many people the connector knows. In order to have a significant change in people’s behavior and belief it will be essential that the connector rather is a person with ties to many groups than to many other people. Most efficiently this could be done through a community where those new ideas could be encouraged and practiced (Gladwell, 2000).  This is “community” sense where consumers are active and contributing to changes, is often experienced in the super food where you easily can see patterns that followers not only use to imitate and join a trend but also a whole lifestyle identified with lead-users such as exercise clothes, pillows, fashion magazines and furnishing etc.  

  Figure 5, Image source (Businessbooksmakeyourich, 2010)

Figure 5, Image source (Businessbooksmakeyourich, 2010)

The power of context

The “law of the few/lead users” relates transmission of an epidemic to certain people with super natural gifts for spreading information. Further, if an epidemics “stickiness factor” is based on how the message is spread in order to be memorable and action provoking, the “Power of the content” tells how sensitive epidemics are to time and space in which they occur. Just like a phenomenon or trend is contagious so are crimes contagious. Vandalizing like graffiti or broken windows could potentially be spread to an entire community if actions weren’t taken. Since engaging and adopting a certain behavior has nothing to do with personality but with the feature of atmosphere things can be changed by changing the environment (Gladwell, 2000). 

Apparently, settings plays a great importance for how a phenomenon are observed and by this knowledge it makes sense that putting certain brands into certain context, can make those brands contagious in that setting. Just like crimes would escalate if crushed windows weren’t replaced quickly, certain demands for brands will escalate if they are quickly placed in the sticky context or phenomenon.  Just as Gladwell (2000) states, a contagious phenomenon although have to pass through certain crucial actors in order to pass on the epidemic so that it reaches the tipping point, which is all about how small things can make huge difference in the end. Even though the web has enabled a more open, genuine and interactive playground in favor for lead-users and brands, it could be questioned how genuine lead-users will be perceived in the long run as they have influence to create phenomenon’s for personal winning. Again, it´s all about how little things can make big difference and when “the law of the few”, “the stickiness factor and “the power of context” are aligned we can build bridges and bring the world together.


Reference list

Mintel, (2016). Super Growth for “Super” Foods: New Product Development Shoots up 202% Globally Over the Past Five Years. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2016]

Fabrizio, M. (2016). Appropriating or Appreciating?: An examination of the Origins and Rise of ”Superfoods. [pdf] Washington, D.C: Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2016].

The Guardian, (2015). Green is the new black: the unstoppable rise of the healthy-eating guru. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 29 November 2016].

Fagerberg, J., Mowery, C. D., Nelson, R. R. (2005). The Oxford Handbook of Innovation. Oxford University Press. pp.3. [Accessed 29 November 2016].

Vernuccio, M. (2014). Communicating Corporate Brands Through Social Media: An Exploratory Study, International Journal of Business Communication, [e-journal] vol. 51, no. 3, pp.211–233, Available Online: [Accessed 29 November 2016].

Christodoulides, G. (2009). Branding in the Post-Internet Era, Marketing Theory, [e-journal] vol. 9, no. 1, pp.141–144, Available Online:[Accessed 29 November 2016].

Schau, J. H., Gilly, C 2003. We are what we post? Self-presentation in Personal Web space. Journal of Consumer Research, [e-journal] vol.30, no. 3, pp.388-404, Available online: [Accessed 29 November 2016].

Gladwell, M, (2000). The tippning point. How small things can make big difference. London Copyright [e-Book]. 1 Edition. ISBN0-31696-2. pp.27-31, 49- 54, 125, 181, 193, 196, 207, 235, 341.