Cultural Velocity

Jonah Berger & Stefan Burford

The one sentence summary

Brands can use agitation, collisions, proximity, spotlights and contributors to ensure cultural velocity – ideas that move fast through culture fast to gain relevance with consumers.


  • The book is all about how to generate communications ideas that move through culture fast to gain relevance with consumers.
  • It is a joint effort between author and Wharton School professor Jonah Berger, and the media agency Initiative, who studied hundreds of campaigns looking for common themes.
  • Cultural velocity is defined as an idea or brand message that moves through culture at speed while remaining relevant and growing. It captures where a brand is going – its movement and trajectory.
  • The importance of achieving this is highlighted against a backdrop in which 66% of global brands are stagnant or in decline, and 96% of consumers don’t trust advertising. Meanwhile word of mouth is behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions.
  • The book identifies five ways to generate cultural velocity:

1. Cultural Agitation: is all about controversy & challenging the status quo by associating a brand with a polarizing issue. Brands who play it safe can appeal weakly to many, but they are unlikely to appeal strongly to anyone. It’s not enough to be plain vanilla anymore.

2. Cultural Collisions: is pairing two things that aren’t usually seen together – things from seemingly opposing or different worlds.

3. Cultural Proximity: demonstrates hyper-local knowledge through data. This allows brands to prove that they truly understand the people and subcultures they are trying to reach.

4. Cultural Spotlights: is about understanding an existing cultural boundary and extending it to encourage conversation. These tend to be less surprising than agitation and collisions – lifting something to cultural attention. This leads to valuable virality – making brands integral to the issue being put under the spotlight.

5. Cultural Contributors: is providing open access to information, tools and resources to encourage helpful cultural change.


  • Each route can be pursued separately but there is some overlap between them.
  • Culture is defined as shared norms, values or practices.
  • Brands should use individual or cultural data signals to design suitable ideas. Examples of cultural velocity include:

1. Cultural Agitation: EDEKA, a German supermarket, removed all foreign goods from its stores to highlight extreme views on immigration.

2. Cultural Collisions: KFC unexpectedly launched a designer clothes range.

3. Cultural Proximity: Spotify highlighted that the trendy Williamsburg area of New York listened to a lot of Justin Bieber music.

4. Cultural Spotlights: Holland & Barrett brought the ‘taboo’ topic of menopause to the fore through its campaign.

5. Cultural Contributors: Volvo shared all of its data on car safety issues for the common good.


  • Not much, but this is specifically about communications, so readers need to be particularly interested in the topic.

Since this book is the result of a private project, it is not available on the open market. If you’re interested in receiving a copy, please contact