How to Get Your Ideas to Spread: Seth Godin TEDTalk (Transcript)

I’m going to give you four specific examples.

I’m going to cover at the end about how a company called Silk tripled their sales; how an artist named Jeff Koons went from being a nobody to making a whole bunch of money and having a lot of impact; to how Frank Gehry redefined what it meant to be an architect.

And one of my biggest failures as a marketer in the last few years — a record label I started that had a CD called “Sauce.”

Before I can do that, I’ve got to tell you about sliced bread, and a guy named Otto Rohwedder.

Now, before sliced bread was invented in the 1910s I wonder what they said? Like the greatest invention since the telegraph or something.

But this guy named Otto Rohwedder invented sliced bread, and he focused, like most inventors did, on the patent part and the making part.

And the thing about the invention of sliced bread is this — that for the first 15 years after sliced bread was available no one bought it; no one knew about it; it was a complete and total failure.

And the reason is that until Wonder came along and figured out how to spread the idea of sliced bread, no one wanted it. That the success of sliced bread, like the success of almost everything we’ve talked about at this conference, is not always about what the patent is like, or what the factory is like — it’s about can you get your idea to spread, or not.

And I think that the way you’re going to get what you want, or cause the change that you want to change, to happen, is to figure out a way to get your ideas to spread.

And it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re running a coffee shop or you’re an intellectual, or you’re in business, or you’re flying hot air balloons.

I think that all this stuff applies to everybody regardless of what we do. That what we are living in is a century of idea diffusion. That people who can spread ideas, regardless of what those ideas are, win.

When I talk about it, I usually pick business, because they make the best pictures that you can put in your presentation, and because it’s the easiest sort of way to keep score.

But I want you to forgive me when I use these examples because I’m talking about anything that you decide to spend your time to do.

At the heart of spreading ideas is TV and stuff like TV. TV and mass media made it really easy to spread ideas in a certain way. I call it the “TV-industrial complex.”

The way the TV-industrial complex works, is you buy some ads, interrupt some people, that gets you distribution. You use the distribution you get to sell more products.

You take the profit from that to buy more ads. And it goes around and around and around, the same way that the military-industrial complex worked a long time ago.

That model of, and we heard it yesterday — if we could only get onto the homepage of Google, if we could only figure out how to get promoted there, or grab that person by the throat, and tell them about what we want to do.

If we did that then everyone would pay attention, and we would win. Well, this TV-industrial complex informed my entire childhood and probably yours. I mean, all of these products succeeded because someone figured out how to touch people in a way they weren’t expecting, in a way they didn’t necessarily want, with an ad, over and over again until they bought it.

And the thing that’s happened is, they canceled the TV-industrial complex. That just over the last few years, what anybody who markets anything has discovered is that it’s not working the way that it used to.

This picture is really fuzzy, I apologize; I had a bad cold when I took it. But the product in the blue box in the center is my poster child. I go to the deli; I’m sick; I need to buy some medicine.

The brand manager for that blue product spent $100 million trying to interrupt me in one year. $100 million interrupting me with TV commercials and magazine ads and Spam and coupons and shelving allowances and spiff — all so I could ignore every single message.

And I ignored every message because I don’t have a pain reliever problem. I buy the stuff in the yellow box because I always have. And I’m not going to invest a minute of my time to solve her problem, because I don’t care.

Here’s a magazine called “Hydrate.” It’s 180 pages about water. Articles about water, ads about water. Imagine what the world was like 40 years ago, with just the Saturday Evening Post and Time and Newsweek.

Now there are magazines about water. New product from Coke Japan: water salad. Coke Japan comes out with a new product every three weeks, because they have no idea what’s going to work and what’s not.

I couldn’t have written this better myself. It came out four days ago — I circled the important parts so you can see them here. They’ve come out…

Arby’s is going to spend $85 million promoting an oven mitt with the voice of Tom Arnold, hoping that that will get people to go to Arby’s and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Now, I had tried to imagine what could possibly be in an animated TV commercial featuring Tom Arnold, that would get you to get in your car, drive across town and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Now, this is Copernicus, and he was right, when he was talking to anyone who needs to hear your idea.

“The world revolves around me.”

Me, me, me, me. My favorite person — me. I don’t want to get email from anybody; I want to get “memail.”

So consumers, and I don’t just mean people who buy stuff at the Safeway; I mean people at the Defense Department who might buy something, or people at the New Yorker who might print your article.

Consumers don’t care about you at all; they just don’t care. Part of the reason is — they’ve got way more choices than they used to, and way less time.

And in a world where we have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff. And my parable here is you’re driving down the road and you see a cow, and you keep driving because you’ve seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring.

Who’s going to stop and pull over and say — “Oh, look, a cow.” Nobody.

But if the cow was purple — isn’t that a great special effect? I could do that again if you want. If the cow was purple, you’d notice it for a while. I mean, if all cows were purple you’d get bored with those, too.

The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is: “Is it remarkable?”

And “remarkable” is a really cool word, because we think it just means “neat,” but it also means “worth making a remark about.” And that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going. That two of the hottest cars in the United States is a $55,000 giant car, big enough to hold a Mini in its trunk.

People are paying full price for both, and the only thing they have in common is that they don’t have anything in common.

Every week, the number one best-selling DVD in America changes. It’s never “The Godfather,” it’s never “Citizen Kane,” it’s always some third-rate movie with some second-rate star.

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