The Toxic and the Trivial

Most ideas spread slowly. They’re like submarines, pushing their way through the muck of inattention and eventually they just fade away.

But some ideas spread like stones skipping across the top of the water. They move through a population in a hurry, touching most people and sometimes leaving a long-lasting memory. My post on Google yesterday generated more email than most posts I do… because it was trivial. It was safe to write in and talk about Google’s lame explanation that the stem was green, or the fact that all you need is ‘l’ove. The best ones were the people who pointed out that they should have saved it for Christmas, because, after all, there’s no L.

That’s the same reason everyone is talking about an astronaut driving cross country wearing diapers. Or why it’s so easy to obsess about the latest gossip.

The toxic stories spread as well. The difference is that in addition to spreading, they leave a mark. It might be the impact a failed shoe bomber has (years later, we still take off our shoes in homage) or an urban legend (there never were razor blades in apples on Halloween) or the damaging impact of one encounter with an abusive relative.

Marketers, understandably, often try to be neither of these. But we compare ourselves to them when we dream up our plans. We want our ideas to spread like wildfire, or to have impact that lasts, but we often forget that different ideas spread differently. A quick look at Digg demonstrates that the easiest way to get Dugg is to have a trivial idea. And the easiest way to get noticed when you’re a politician is to do something that ruins your career forever…