Consumer Psychology

Infectious Content Marketing: 7 Rules from the CDC for Creating an Epidemic of Demand

“What Witchcraft Is Facebook?” is the title of a brilliant article over in the Atlantic this month suggesting that people can catch “conversion disorder” (mental illness that manifests itself psychosomatically as physical symptoms such as nausea, behavioural, ticks, spasms, headaches and rashes) through social media.

This “media contagion” of conversion disorder is  a leading explanation for the recent bizarre outbreak of twitches, spasms and Tourette’s-like symptoms among high school girls in New York (Le Roy).  Exposed to each other physically and digitally through social media, the girls appeared to have “caught” symptoms off of each each other – leading to a mental epidemic of conversion disorder known as Mass Psychogenic Illness. There is evidence to suggest that anorexia, deliberate self-harm, and other eating disorders can all spread by a process of psychological contagion. Explanations are complex and disputed (and were the subject of my PhD in psychology), but in essence it would seem that media contagion is the product of a combination of innate human suggestibility and undiagnosed psychological distress, stress or anxiety.

Okay so what does all this have to do with content marketing? In short, marketers can reverse-engineer the official CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines designed to contain harmful outbreaks of media contagion, and use content marketing to create an outbreak of media contagion and seed an epidemic of demand.

These containment guidelines were originally designed in the age of broadcast mass media, but we have been working with authorities to update them for social media (to prevent, among other things, the infectious spread of terrorist ideation and behaviour via social media).  Back with our marketing hats on, content marketers can invert the deceptively simple principles designed to stop psychological contagion via social media, in order to promote an epidemic of demand for their products and services;

  • Always provide how-to information
  • Offer simplistic rationale
  • Focus on positive user imagery
  • Glorify existing users
  • Present yourself as a solution
  • Be repetitive
  • Use sensationalist language


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