Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

The Science Of Popularity

Apple iPhones. Evian. Rolex watches. Luis Vuitton handbags. And 50 Shades of Grey. What do these products all have in common? 

They’re all incredibly popular products that offer less quality than their lesser-known and cheaper competitors.

Yeh, I know, shots fired. But it’s true: popularity ≠ quality. People like stuff for reasons that often have absolutely nothing to do with its performance.

For one, we tend to gravitate towards stuff that doesn’t make us think too hard. We don’t want our brains to get an owy. That’s why we’re such suckers for pop music, it’s so wonderfully uncreative and repetitive.

That’s not a put-down. I enjoyed Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and Carly Rae’s Call Me Maybe as much as the rest of you. I’m simply pointing out that our cognitive coconut is wired for simplicity.

And our music charts prove it. You’re never going to find any modern jazz in there, that’s for sure.

The next thing that we can’t resist in products—that also has nothing to do with quality—is emotion. We like things that make us feel stuff. Good or bad. 

That’s how shitty movies like The Room can still fill cinemas across the globe, year after year. And why Candy Corn’s tasteless wax cones are still around. Atrocious products evoke just as much emotion as the good ones.

Sometimes even more. Yes, I’m looking at you, Rebecca Black’s Friday.

Now for yet another explanation how trash can rise to the top, social proof. If someone cool says that it’s cool, it has to be, right? I’m not sure if I agree, but I admit that I do pretty much anything that Joe Rogan recommends me to do. 

Many people are swayed by notorious figures.

Take Dre. I know they aren’t being made anymore, but Beats By Dre wasn’t in the top 10 of any notable consumer test for headphones and was still such a commercial success that Apple bought Dre’s company for 3 billion dollars. 

And Oprah Winfrey only has to put her book club sticker on any paperback to turn it into a bestseller. At least Dre made something that was related to his craft. I have no clue what makes Oprah an authority on books.

What am I even arguing here?

Our mind melon doesn’t care about logic. It cares about fame, glam and stardom. If someone is a household name, our noggin figures they must know what they’re talking about. 

And it’s true. Famous people are just smarter and more important than the rest of us. 

Anyway, there are undoubtedly more explanations for what is and isn’t appealing. But the point should be clear: popularity isn’t synonymous with quality. It’s simply one of many signs that a product or work of art might be good.

Bad news for the folks who rely on Amazon and Google reviews to tell them what to buy and do. Sure, you might pick something good. But since people care far less about quality than familiarity, status and emotion, you’ll probably pick wrong.

Luckily, that doesn’t have to impact your happiness one bit. Unless you’re a poo-slinging snob like me. 

P.S. I know there was absolutely nothing scientific about this post, but the title was decent for SEO. So… 🤷‍♂️

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach