Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger
  • Associate Professor of Marketing

Contact Information

Research Interests: Word of mouth, social influence, why things catch on, viral marketing, and natural language processing

Links: CV, Personal Website


For most recent news and research, see

New book – The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind

Professor Jonah Berger is a world-renowned expert on word of mouth, social influence, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. He has published dozens of articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and popular accounts of his work often appear in places like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review. Berger is the internationally bestselling author of multiple books including Contagious: Why Things Catch On (over half a million copies in print in over 30 languages) and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior. Berger often keynotes major conferences and events like SXSW and Cannes Lions and consults for companies like Apple, Google, GE, Coca‐Cola, Vanguard, 3M, and The Gates Foundation.

His most recent work uses automated textual analysis and natural language processing to pull behavioral insights from text data (e.g., predicting song success from lyrics, movie success from scripts, and customer satisfaction from service calls).  He co-founded the Technology and Behavioral Science Initiative and helps host an interdisciplinary conference on Behavioral Insights from Text.

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  • Grant Packard and Jonah Berger, How Concrete Language Shapes Customer Satisfaction.

    Abstract: Marketers and consumers alike wish that sales and service people were more attentive to customer needs.  But beyond broad strategies (e.g., being responsive) or using certain tactics (e.g., apologizing), might there be simpler ways to increase satisfaction and purchase?  We suggest that linguistic concreteness, or the words agents use when speaking to customers, can have an important impact.  Five studies, including text analysis from over 1,000 customer interactions across two companies, demonstrate that using more concrete language when addressing customers increases customer satisfaction, willingness to purchase, and actual expenditures.  This occurs because speaking concretely makes agents seem more involved with the customer’s specific, personal needs. These findings deepen understanding of how language shapes consumer behavior and have important implications for increasing customer satisfaction.

  • Grant Packard and Jonah Berger, Thinking of You: How Second Person Pronouns Shape Cultural Success.

    Abstract: What leads some cultural items to succeed while others fail? Some have argued that one function of narrative arts is to facilitate feelings of social connection. If true, cultural items that activate social ties should be more successful. We test this possibility in the context of second person pronouns (e.g., “you”). Textual analysis of thousands of songs, as well as controlled experiments, demonstrate that cultural items that use more second person pronouns are more successful. Rather than directly addressing the audience, or communicating norms, second person pronouns increase success by encouraging audiences to think of someone in their own lives. These findings shed light on a novel way second person pronouns make meaning, the psychological foundations of culture, and situated factors in language effects.

  • Jonah Berger, Ashlee Humphreys, Stephen Ludwig, Wendy Moe, Oded Netzer, David Schweidel (2019), Uniting the Tribes: Using Text for Marketing Insight, Journal of Marketing.

    Abstract: Words are part of almost every marketplace interaction. Online reviews, customer service calls, press releases, marketing communications, and other interactions create a wealth of textual data. But how can marketers best use such data? This article provides an overview of automated textual analysis and details how it can be used to generate marketing insights. We discuss how text reflects qualities of the text producer (and context in which the text was produced) and impacts the audience or text recipient. Next, we discuss how text can be a powerful tool both for prediction and for understanding (i.e., insights). Then, we overview methodologies and metrics used in text analysis, providing a set of guidelines and procedures. Further, we highlight some common metrics and challenges and discuss how researchers can address issues of internal and external validity. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of potential areas for future work. Along the way, we note how textual analysis can unite the tribes of marketing. While most marketing problems are interdisciplinary, the field is often fragmented. By involving skills and ideas from each of the subareas of marketing, text analysis has the potential to help unite the field with a common set of tools and approaches.

  • Jonah Berger, Wendy Moe, David Schweidel (Under Review), What Leads to Longer Reads? Psychological Drivers of Reading Online Content.

    Abstract: More and more consumers read content online.  They scan Wall Street Journal articles, catch up on sports, and peruse blogs on tech and celebrity gossip. But what makes one article more engaging than another?  That is, what about certain articles encourage people to keep reading?  Combining natural language processing of a unique dataset of over 825,000 page-reading sessions from over 35,000 articles with an experiment, we examine how textual features (i.e., the words used) shape continued engagement. Results suggest that emotion shapes engagement.  Importantly, however, not all emotion increases reading.  Consistent with research on appraisal and action tendencies, content that evokes anger and anxiety encourage further reading while content which evokes sadness discourages it.  Textual features that should increase processing ease (e.g., concreteness and familiar words) also increase engagement.  Experimental evidence underscores the causal impact of emotion on reading and demonstrates that these effects are driven by emotions impact on uncertainty and arousal.  These findings shed light on psychological drivers of reading and how to design more engaging content

  • Jonah Berger, Yoonduk Kim, Robert Meyer (Under Review), Emotional Volatility and Cultural Success.

    Abstract: Some cultural products (e.g., movies and books) catch on and become popular, but less is known about why certain succeed and others fail. While some have argued that success is unpredictable, we suggest that period-to-period shifts in emotional tone—what we term emotional volatility—plays an important role.  Automated sentiment analysis of thousands of movies demonstrates that more emotionally volatile movies are evaluated more positively.  This relationship holds controlling for a range of other factors, and, consistent with the notion that emotional volatility makes experiences more stimulating, is stronger in genres where evaluations are more likely to be driven stimulation (i.e., thrillers rather than romance). By manipulating emotional volatility in a follow up experiment, we underscore its causal impact on evaluations, and provide preliminary evidence for the role of stimulation and engagement in driving these effects. Taken together, these results shed light on why things become popular, the time dynamics of emotion, and the psychological foundations of culture more broadly.

  • Alex Van Zant and Jonah Berger (2019), How The Voice Persuades, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    Abstract: Research has examined persuasive language, but relatively little is known about how persuasive people are when they attempt to persuade through paralanguage, or acoustic properties of speech (e.g., pitch and volume). People often detect and react against what communicators say, but might they be persuaded by speakers’ attempts to modulate how they say it? Four experiments support this possibility, demonstrating that communicators engaging in paralinguistic persuasion attempts (i.e., modulating their voice to persuade) naturally use paralinguistic cues that influence perceivers’ attitudes and choice. Rather than being effective because they go undetected, however, the results suggest a subtler possibility. Even when they are detected, paralinguistic attempts succeed because they make communicators seem more confident without undermining their perceived sincerity. Consequently, speakers’ confident vocal demeanor persuades others by serving as a signal that they more strongly endorse the stance they take in their message. Further, we find that paralinguistic approaches to persuasion can be uniquely effective even when linguistic ones are not. A cross-study exploratory analysis and replication experiment reveal that communicators tend to speak louder and vary their volume during paralinguistic persuasion attempts, both of which signal confidence and, in turn, facilitate persuasio

  • Jonah Berger and Grant Packard (2018), Are Atypical Songs More Popular?, Psychological Science.

    Abstract: Why do some cultural items become popular?  While some have argued that success is random, we suggest that how similar items are to their peers plays an important role.  Natural language processing of thousands of songs examines the relationship between lyrical differentiation (i.e., atypicality) and song popularity.  Results indicate that the more different a song’s lyrics are from its genre, the more popular it becomes.  This relationship is weaker in genres where lyrics matter less (i.e., dance) or where differentiation matters less (i.e., pop) and occurs for lyrical topics but not style.  The results shed light on cultural dynamics, why things become popular, and the psychological foundations of culture more broadly.

  • Grant Packard and Jonah Berger (2017), How Language Shapes Word of Mouth’s Impact, Journal of Marketing Research.

  • Ezgi Akpinar and Jonah Berger (2017), Valuable Virality, Journal of Marketing Research.

  • Aner Sela, Jonah Berger, Joshua Kim (2017), How Self-Control Shapes the Meaning of Choice, Journal of Consumer Research.


Current Courses

  • MKTG611 - Marketing Management

    This course addresses how to design and implement the best combination of marketing efforts to carry out a firm's strategy in its target markets. Specifically, this course seeks to develop the student's (1) understanding of how the firm can benefit by creating and delivering value to its customers, and stakeholders, and (2) skills in applying the analytical concepts and tools of marketing to such decisions as segmentation and targeting, branding, pricing, distribution, and promotion. The course uses lectures and case discussions, case write-ups, student presentations, and a comprehensive final examination to achieve these objectives.

    MKTG611009 ( Syllabus )

    MKTG611011 ( Syllabus )

    MKTG611013 ( Syllabus )

    MKTG611015 ( Syllabus )

Past Courses


    This course is concerned with how and why people behave as consumers. Its goals are to: (1) provide conceptual understanding of consumer behavior, (2) provide experience in the application of buyer behavior concepts to marketing management decisions and social policy decision-making; and (3) to develop analytical capability in using behavioral research.


    This course addresses how to design and implement the best combination of marketing efforts to carry out a firm's strategy in its target markets. Specifically, this course seeks to develop the student's (1) understanding of how the firm can benefit by creating and delivering value to its customers, and stakeholders, and (2) skills in applying the analytical concepts and tools of marketing to such decisions as segmentation and targeting, branding, pricing, distribution, and promotion. The course uses lectures and case discussions, case write-ups, student presentations, and a comprehensive final examination to achieve these objectives.


    Why do some products catch on and achieve huge popularity while others fail? Why do some behaviors spread like wildfire while others languish? How do certain ideas seem to stick in memory while others disappear the minute you hear them? More broadly, what factors lead to trends, social contagion, and social epidemics? Interactive media, word of mouth, and viral marketing are important issues for companies, brands, and organizations. This course looks at these and other topics as it examines how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on and become popular. Marketers want their product to be popular, organizations want their social change initiative to catch on and entrepreneurs want their ideas to stick. This course will touch on four main aspects: (1) Characteristics of products, ideas, and behaviors that lead them to be successful. (2) Aspects of individual psychology that influence what things are successful. (3) Interpersonal processes, or how interactions between individuals drive success. (4) Social networks, or how patterns of social ties influence success.


    This course is taught collectively by the faculty members from the Marketing Department. It is designed to expose Doctoral students to the cutting-edge research in marketing models in order to help them to define and advance their research interests. This course will offer: in-depth discussions on some important topics in marketing by experts in respective areas; tools, and methodologies required for conducting research in those areas; broad exposure to our faculty members and their proven research styles.

Awards and Honors

  • Outstanding Reviewer Award, Journal of Consumer Research, 2016
  • Best 2012 Article Finalist, Journal of Consumer Research, 2015
  • Top 30 Leaders in Business, American Management Association, 2015
  • Berry-AMA Book Prize for Best Book in Marketing, 2014
  • Top 5 Most Productive Researchers in Marketing 2009-13, AMA DocSig, 2013
  • Paul Green Award, Journal of Marketing Research, Finalist, 2013
  • Most Creative People in Business, Fast Company, 2013
  • Early Career Award, Association for Consumer Research, 2012
  • Early Career Award, Society for Consumer Psychology, 2012
  • Outstanding Reviewer Award, Journal of Consumer Research, 2011
  • Winner, Iron Professor Competition, The Wharton School, 2011
  • MBA Teaching Commitment and Curricular Innovation Award, 2011
  • MSI – Young Scholars Program, 2011
  • Top 10 Reviewer Award, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011
  • JCR Best Paper in 2007 Award, Finalist, 2010

In the News

Knowledge @ Wharton


Latest Research

Grant Packard and Jonah Berger, How Concrete Language Shapes Customer Satisfaction.
All Research

In the News

The Impact of Social Media: Is it Irreplaceable?

Social media as we know it has barely reached its 20th birthday, but it’s changed the fabric of everyday life. What does the future hold for the sector and the players currently at the top?

Knowledge @ Wharton - 2019/07/26
All News

Awards and Honors

Outstanding Reviewer Award, Journal of Consumer Research 2016
All Awards