Friday, October 01, 2021

Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

Hit Makers by Derek Thompson is a solid book subtitled The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction. It was published in 2017 and Thompson notes that he wrote a book about hits, those products and ideas that achieve extraordinary popularity and commercial success in pop culture and media. There's a focus on the secret to making things that people like in culture and why some things fail while similar things become hits.

Thompson notes that people like things that are familiar but presented in an original way, or the marrying of the old and new. People gravitate to the theory of MAYA (most advanced, yet acceptable); otherwise stated, people are attracted to the new, yet resistant to the unfamiliar. This is why people often compare companies to other better-known ones, with phrases like “Uber for…” A huge commercial success example of this idea of new, but still familiar was the movie Star Wars, something popular in part because it was written by George Lucas as a space western, alluding to stories people had seen from the past. Around the idea of myth-making, Thompson refers to the PBS show The Power of Myth on Joseph Campbell and his writing. Also in reference to the success of Star Wars is how Lucas wrote it for a 10-year-old boy, with that an example of how the biggest hits are often created for the smallest audiences, it’s good to have a tightly defined target.

Another example of a hit that Thompson covers is that of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book written as Twilight Fan fiction with the main character Edward reimagined as a corporate tycoon. Additionally, Thompson notes that repeated exposure is also a huge factor, you see something more frequently and as it becomes familiar, it rises in your esteem. This correlates to the notion that we like things we generally agree with, which of course can lead to harmful like-mindedness. 

Also of interest from Hit Makers is Thompson’s mention of various rhetorical devices in writing: epistrophe, anaphora, tricolon, epizeuxis, diacope, antithesis, parallelism, and what Thompson notes as the king of speech-making tricks, antimetabole. When Jon Favreau wrote for President Obama, he kept in mind that speeches are like songs, they require hooks, choruses, and clear structures, as well as repetition.