The Tipping Point | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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The Tipping Point | Chapter 6 : Case Study: Rumors, Sneakers, and the Power of Translation | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • This chapter explains a particular social epidemic: the mid-1990s "tip" of the shoe company Airwalk from a skateboarding niche product to a wildly popular commercial brand, through the three rules of epidemics listed in Chapter 1.
  • Airwalk centered its ads on "the principles of epidemic transmission."
  • Sociology's "diffusion model" shows how ideas and products spread through a group.
  • In the diffusion model, adventurous people called Innovators begin a new trend. Then respected community members called Early Adopters bring the trend to the wider population, from the Early Majority to the Late Majority to the Laggards or final trend adopters.
  • The three personality types described in Chapter 1 are often Early Adopters. They all function as "translators" by spreading innovative ideas and products to a larger audience in a way everyone can understand.
  • Rumors or circulating stories are also key to social messaging.
  • Rumors, according to sociologist Gordon Allport, go through a three-step "process of distortion."
    • Stories are leveled when tellers omit certain details.
    • They're sharpened when the remaining details become more specific.
    • They're assimilated when the story adapts to the population spreading the rumor.
  • People who want to spread social epidemics to a certain population, like Baltimore medical professionals distributing clean needles to areas with high drug use, need a Connector who can translate their message to the population effectively.
  • Airwalk wanted an ad campaign to reach the Innovators or trendsetters of youth culture: teenage Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. These Innovators would then spread or translate enthusiasm for Airwalk to others.
  • Airwalk's branding agency, Lambesis, and research expert DeeDee Gordon identified and followed young trendsetters in major cities. Lambesis learned the interests of "cool subcultures" from the trendsetters and then targeted Airwalk ads to these subcultures.
  • Lambesis translated cultural concepts to a mainstream population by the process of rumor: leveling, sharpening, and assimilating details to fit the target audience.
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