The Hundredth Monkey Effect

Marketing for the critical mass.

Now and again I stumble across unorthodox stuff.

Of which are often intriguing.

Sometimes thought-provoking.

And sometimes just plain bizarre.

Like the hundredth monkey effect.

A study was conducted in the 1950s on a group of Japanese monkeys on Kojima island.

Scientists would leave sweet potatoes on the beach and observe the monkeys’ behaviour.

At first, the sweet potatoes would be mostly untouched.

Because they were covered in sand and deemed inedible by the monkeys.

The monkeys knew that sand would get stuck in their teeth.

But one monkey, Imo, washed her sweet potatoes in the water and then ate them.

Her behaviour led to several behaviour changes over the next few years.

Seeing Imo eating her newly washed potatoes, her children started doing the same.

Other families within Imo’s group saw what was going on and also learned the skill.

Which was eventually replicated within other monkey groups on the island.

But what happened next is the most puzzling.

Which occurred when the developed monkeys on Kojima island reached a critical number.

The critical number being the hundredth monkey.

Once the hundredth monkey developed the skill, all the monkeys became capable of washing the potatoes, regardless of whether they were taught the skill or not.

It came naturally.

Even more bizarrely at this critical milestone…

The behaviour somehow spread across the water to monkeys on nearby, yet isolated islands.

Like I said, bizarre.

The study in question has previously come under scrutiny, with its initial observations thought to have been misrepresented.

But it does give us an indication about how people act or could act once a critical number of people is reached.

In social dynamics, this refers to the critical number of personnel needed to make a change.

It can also refer to the size a company needs to reach to efficiently and competitively participate in the market.

Once our marketing messages reach a specific number or percentage within our markets, can it be amplified naturally to larger numbers beyond the original group of recipients?

It could.

So within an account-based marketing campaign, where we treat a target organisation as a market, if we reach a percentage of that organisation’s staff (such as 30%) will all of that organisation see the campaign message?

Or, if you’re promoting yourself locally, if you make yourself a known person in your town, starting with your neighbourhood, will other nearby towns naturally know of your existence?

It’s a complex and curious phenomenon.

But it’s possible to set up marketing messages and campaigns to spread and reach a critical mass (or a hundred people).

Jonah Berger, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests:

1. The message, campaign or product should have a social currency which others will want to pass on.

2. Creating a context for your product outside its typical space, to be thought of when our audience least expect it.

3. Giving the campaign an emotional appeal.

4. Leaving a visible trail of your campaign so it can be imitated by others.

5. That the product needs practical value.

6. Wrapping everything up in a story and can be carried from people to people.

All which could help amplify your marketing campaign beyond its initial group of recipients.

Behavioural change of any form needs to start small before it’s passed on.

Via baby steps.

Just like what happened to the monkeys on Kojima island.

Starting with Imo to her children, to the wider group and all the monkeys on the island, to other neighbouring islands unexplainably.

As it did for ALSA, Cards Against Humanity or even Pokémon Go.

For your next campaign, look to achieve the hundredth monkey effect.

How did I do? Please help share this on social media.

5 thoughts on “The Hundredth Monkey Effect

      1. If only us humans possess some of these animals instincts without analyzing and misinterpreting….
        and try to fight against everyone and everything….

        Hope I’m making sense within the context of your article

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