From 0 to 100: How Trends Become Popular

Hugo Riley
From 0 to 100: How Trends Become Popular

Hugo Riley

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Creative Director

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January 15, 2024

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Why do we share things? Why do we care what others are doing and, even more strangely, assume they care what we’re doing? Spoiler Alert: it’s cause we’re social beings.

From 0 to 100: How Trends Become Popular

From 0 to 100: How Trends Become Popular

To take it back to before trends were a thing, when staying alive was a little harder, we would copy others to increase the likelihood of survival. One human simply cannot contain as much knowledge as multiple. As the saying goes: there’s safety in numbers. Learning which plants, animals, terrains, and god knows what else, was safe was a high-stakes game: your life was the prize. Relying on the group to help make decisions would have increased everyone’s survival odds. We’re not so different now, just the world is.

Marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Jonah Berger’s has provided a format for how trends become popular with his STEPPS theory. "The six elements of STEPPS are Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Practical value, Public, and Stories." These attributes show us how humans grow trends.

Triggers help audiences crave and remember products when they’re out of sight. It’s what keeps products in mind. Having your thoughts triggered by an association is a powerful marketing tool. It’s why many crave hot chocolate when the weather turns cold, we’re not necessarily only after the taste of hot cocoa but instead the comforting, cosy feeling that fights off the winter blues.

If something is Practical, it helps us. And the more something aids us in any way, the more we’re gonna want it. That’s human nature, we’re all trying to live comfier, easier lives.

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Public is the simplest attribute, but the most crucial. This is exactly what sounds like, making something available to the public. Making sure as many people, as possible, interact with it. We can’t want something we haven’t seen.

But, with all that said, social is key. We’re social beings. We care what others think. Social is the first word listed in the STEPPS theory, most things we do as humans will be influenced socially.

Someone’s opinion could even shift your own, we seek validation from others. It’s why we ask friends for advice on what to wear or say or do. Most decisions are filtered through the opinions of others. And the higher an approval rating a decision gets, the more likely we’ll opt for that one. This is where the power of trends lies, as more and more people catch on to something, the more appealing it becomes. And the more likely we are to share it.

And there are different ways we can be socially influenced. In STEPPS emotions and stories are the main factors, after social currency.

Emotions are the basis for forming opinions, they help us navigate the world. We’re more likely to share something if we give a damn about it.

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And while we do create our own emotions, we also, kind of, don’t. Young children copy caregivers, studies have shown that babies also learn social and emotional tasks. So to some extent, emotional reactions are learned. While the emotions may be completely innate, we don’t fully know, where we direct them is not. This is how trends are influenced socially, from birth we watch others to help us decide how we feel about things. Life’s already stressful enough, doing everything ourselves would be impossible.

Stories are a crucial part of human society, they're a way to connect with people and they are getting more and more recognition as a useful tool in business and marketing. Storytelling is arguably one of the most human things we do. As far as I’m aware, no other animal can do it quite like us. We share stories to build bonds, connections, advice… you name it. Stories bring us together.

And we remember them. They fit into these neat little narratives that can be easily absorbed, digested, and passed from one person to the next. Humans like order. Our brains are designed to look for patterns, and stories follow patterns.

As much as we might wish they didn’t, people’s opinions matter to us. That’s not to say they’re all weighed equally but even someone we dislike can make us question ourselves. We wouldn’t do that if we didn’t care what they think, at least a little bit…

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Right now, self-love is all the rage, it’s the current ‘trend’. And while building confidence within ourselves is fantastic, we’re acting like it’s all we need. Like external validation is a bad thing. But self-love can’t be all we need. If it was we would have seen a dip in mental health problems throughout Covid, not a spike.

Self-love and external validation are intertwined. It’s a lot easier to feel good about yourself if others are playing that narrative back to you. We all want to be accepted. And socially desirable trends make us feel accepted. So if the current trend is implying, via social cues, that it’ll make you feel good, you’re probably gonna give it a go. That’s just how trends grow.


Pressgrove, Geah & Mckeever, Brooke & Jones - Jang, Mo. (2017). What is Contagious? Exploring why content goes viral on Twitter: A case study of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing. 23. e1586. 10.1002/nvsm.1586.

Hugo Riley


Hugo is the Creative Director of Beige Agency.

Hugo Riley
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