The one-sentence summary

If you want to make your message stick, make it simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and a story.


  • It explains why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck, isolating six factors that make ideas ‘sticky’ – understandable, memorable and effective in changing thought or behaviour.

1.     Simple: find the core of the message and share it.

2.     Unexpected: get attention by surprising people, and hold it by sustaining interest.

3.     Concrete: being specific helps people understand and remember.

4.     Credible: credibility is only achieved by helping people believe.

5.     Emotional: people have to care – the power of association and self-interest are crucial, along with appeal to their identity.

6.     Stories: stories inspire and stimulate, which makes people act.

  • These elements increase the chances of people paying attention, understanding and remembering something, believing it, agreeing with it, and acting as a result.
  • Be aware that the principles can be applied for good or bad purposes. Right-minded communicators can benefit, but so do the originators of urban myths such as the man who wakes up in a bath full of ice with his kidney removed. These stories, although false, stick because they have the right components.


  • There are stacks of experiments and examples to explain the thinking.
  • The US authorities were having trouble getting across the message that coconut oil on popcorn made it undesirably fatty. Their original slogan was “37 grams of saturated fat”, which everyone ignored. Behaviour changed massively when this was re-phrased as “a medium-sized tub contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined.”
  • This is a classic example of a simple comparison that is unexpected and emotional, combined with concrete information.
  • The ‘tappers’ example is salutary. Those asked to tap out songs without singing them reckon that another person could guess 50% of the tunes. The real figure is 2.5%. The moral is that just because you understand something doesn’t mean that you’ll get your message across unless you think harder.


  • Not much. It’s pop psychology and you just need to pick and choose the stories that resonate most.