Book Review: Unleashing the Ideavirus


Seth Godin, Unleashing the Ideavirus(Hyperion, 2001)

Unleashing the Ideavirus began as a widely-downloaded free e-book – a handy way of illustrating how viral marketing should be “smooth” – and is now available in paperback.

Godin’s colorful language helps illustrate key principles of buzz, particularly in the online context. The process of telling a friend and getting them to use the product should be “smooth” as it was with Hotmail. It helps to find either “authoritative sneezers” (influential people who don’t make many recommendations), or “promiscuous sneezers” (the types of people who tend to pass a lot of stuff on to their friends). Godin also shows a deep understanding of social and economic networks, counseling startups to “pick a hive they can dominate.” Most fast food chains, hardware stores, and other mass market retail operations, for example, become regional stars first, since the word can travel more easily (and at very low cost) amongst diners in Minnesota that a particular chicken restaurant is the best chicken restaurant around than it would if the small company’s outlets were spread out all over the place. In addition, Godin pays close attention to the visual impact of some products, like the VW Beetle, which seem to recommend themselves just by being conspicuous in design and in front of a lot of eyeballs. Conversely, the excellent high-efficiency hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius, failed to “go viral” in large part because of its drab exterior appearance.

Although not as definitive as Rosen’s Anatomy of BuzzUnleashing the Ideavirus is chock-a-block with tasty examples and evocative lingo, so it may get your creative engines revving. Our major complaint is that concepts like “promiscuous sneezer,” “ideavirus,” and numerous others are very close to Rosen’s terminology (“network hubs,” “network contagion,” etc.), to the point where one is left to wonder if this book isn’t above all a slick packaging job. Yet Godin does more than others to explain the often-hazy concept of “viral marketing” which gained currency in the wake of the wildfire-like spread of products like Hotmail and ICQ in the online context, and actually gives practical suggestions to breaking down any barriers that might stand in the way of your product “going viral.” I am left to wonder when all those Beetles are going to ask my permission to be in my field of vision. Perhaps Ideavirus is a slight concession that getting in people’s faces is still part of the marketing game.

You may also like