Book Review-Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson

With a paragraph like this on the Penguin Random House Review, you can tell why Hit Makers ended up on my reading list last year and is also a National Bestseller:

“Every business, every artist, every person looking to promote themselves and their work wants to know what makes some works so successful while others disappear. Hit Makers is a magical mystery tour through the last century of pop culture blockbusters and the most valuable currency of the twenty-first century—people’s attention.”

So sure, who doesn’t want to know this! Right? I found Derek’s book to be a page-turner. At the end of the day, I don’t have any formulas of success for Nunn Design, but I feel I’m a bit closer to understanding the power of “familiarity over novelty and distribution over content” as Derek states. He goes on to write in his book:

“Most consumers are simultaneously neophilic – curious to discover new things – and deeply neophobic – afraid of anything that’s too new.”

Here is another piece of the review that gave me an insight:

“Shattering the sentimental myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, Thompson shows quality is insufficient for success, nobody has “good taste,” and some of the most popular products in history were one bad break away from utter failure. It may be a new world, but there are some enduring truths to what audiences and consumers want. People love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold, yet sneakily recognizable.”

Throughout Derek Thompson’s book, he tells stories about how things came to be. One of the stories that really caught my attention was how certain names become popular. I don’t know about you, but as a new parent I tried hard to name my kids names that were meaningful to my husband and I, but different and unique. Only to learn later, when enrolling my daughter for school, that they weren’t unique at all! Isabella was one of the top names in the country! I found it fascinating to learn about how historically names were assigned and how that phenomenon of “Hit Makers” amongst names was something that I participated in.

There is another great example of 50 Shades of Gray and how it became such a great “hit.” And how “Rock Around the Clock” became an all time favorite and hit.

Don’t get me started about his chapter on the myth of “going viral” and his theories of that. Penguin Book Review writes:

“Nothing “goes viral.” If you think a popular movie, song, or app came out of nowhere to become a word-of-mouth success in today’s crowded media environment, you’re missing the real story. Each blockbuster has a secret history—of power, influence, dark broadcasters, and passionate cults that turn some new products into cultural phenomena. Even the most brilliant ideas wither in obscurity if they fail to connect with the right network, and the consumers that matter most aren’t the early adopters, but rather their friends, followers, and imitators — the audience of your audience.”

I thought this book was great. I’m not a great reader, but I do know when I’m engaged and when a lot of complicated data and research is made interesting. Derek nailed it on all accounts.

You can also watch Derek in his talk at Google’s corporate offices in this video. I found him not to be only a great writer, but also a great presenter and performer. I will eagerly await his next book!

Hit Makers by Derek Thompson


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