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how do famous brands become famous?

We all know the tech giants, Apple, Facebook, Google and so on. Same with fashion brands like Gucci or Louis Vuitton. We know them because they're famous, but why? How do brands become famous? I decided to investigate.

by Jeff Jaraved.

09. Aug. 2018.

Last update:

So, I was answering questions on Quora...

And I came across this one. How do famous brands become famous?

And I just drew a blank. I was dumbfounded – I had absolutely no clue. But I was determined to find out. And find out is exactly what I did.

What follows is an expansion of my original Quora answer, which you can find here.

What makes a brand famous? | Heurist - the brand developers | marketing, branding & user experience (UX) strategy consultants | Brisbane

So, how exactly do famous brands become famous?

When I first read the question, I realised that I had absolutely no idea how famous brands become famous. So, I decided to find out. Truth be told though, I couldn’t find many reliable sources of information on the topic. I decided to persist and dig deeper.

I failed to find anything of significance about famous brands (maybe my Googling sucks, I don’t know). That said, however, while I couldn’t find any information on why brands become famous, I found a lot of information on why content becomes viral. Maybe, just maybe, the two are related. I decided to ask a different question in the hope that it would give me more insight:

Why does content go viral? And what does it have to do with brands?

I’ll answer the first question now, but bear with me, I’m building up to an answer for the second.

Why does content go viral?

Well, here’s the deal. According to a paper by Jonah Berger & Katherine Milkman [1], [2], there exists a link between ‘the emotional aspects of content and whether it is shared’. In short, content gets shared depending on how it makes people feel.

To establish this link Berger & Milkman investigated the relationship between the emotional response to an article, and its likelihood of being shared. Over the course of 3 months in 2008, they crawled the home page of the New York Times website and recorded the emotional characteristics of the articles (amongst other details), and whether or not the article made the ‘most e-mailed list’ of articles. Or, in other words, whether or not the articles went viral.

What they discovered was quite profound – Content that is emotionally charged is more likely to go viral:

  1. Positive content is more likely to go viral. Basically, this means that content that evokes positive emotions are more likely to be shared. This seems unintuitive since we have a perceived thirst for bad news, but apparently, it’s true.
  2. Arousing content is also more likely to go viral. So basically, highly arousing information (content that inspires some form of excitement) is likely to be shared.

In general, positivity and arousal go hand in hand. So positive and arousing (awe-inspiring) information is likely to be shared while negative and arousing (sadness-inducing) information is unlikely to be shared – it in fact inhibits sharing. They found exceptions, however, when the content evoked feelings of anger – here they found that anger-inducing content was more likely to be shared.

What does this mean for brands?

This is where I move into relatively uncharted territory, knowledge-wise. Bearing in mind, you asked why famous brands are famous. I make no assumption that famous means well-liked. Hell, the Nazis are famous, but not many people like them. Still, that’s a story for another day.

Anyway. Virality and brands. What if brands are like content? What if brands could go viral? Could it be that some brands evoke certain emotions that make them more likely to be shared by people? More likely to be talked about? More likely to become…famous?

We know that the strength of a brand’s emotional connection with its customers is correlated with increased commitment, loyalty, and repurchase intentions and so on [3]. So, there’s a definite link between the positive emotions a brand elicits in its consumers and how popular that brand is, at least among its competition. But does a brand go viral if it makes people angry?

We know positive stuff goes viral, but can hate go viral?


Let’s take for example the debacle of American Airlines that had a passenger ‘violently removed’ from an overbooked flight [4]. This event made headlines internationally and was rated by The Telegraph as one of the 10 worst Public Relations disasters of all time [5]. This went viral. Oh boy, did it go viral. And it was by no means positive. It was very, very negative – people were angry. There’s a similar story with Comcast – one of America’s most hated companies – there’s even a website: https://fuckyoucomcast.com, filled with outpourings of hate and anger for the organisation (and, by extension, its brand). So these brands are famous, and they make people angry. Go figure.

Apparently, like brand love, brand hate is also a thing [6]. Brands make people happy, they make people angry, both of which cause them to reach the public eye and somehow go viral. Perhaps this means that, when a brand makes someone happy, or gives them an awe-inspiring experience – people want to share it. And maybe, when the brand gives them an anger-evoking experience, they also want to share it. By extension then, both these things contribute to making a brand, well, famous.

All in all, my two cents is this: the same reason we love to share the little things that make us smile and pull our hair out is the same reason brands find their way into fame, fortune, and popularity.

The References.

[1] J. Berger et al., “What Makes Online Content Viral?,” J. Mark. Res., vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 1–1, 2014.

[2] J. Berger and K. Milkman, “Emotion and Virality: What Makes Online Content Go Viral?,” GfK Mark. Intell. Rev., vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 14–23, 2013.

[3] A. E. Akgün, İ. Koçoğlu, and S. Z. İmamoğlu, “An Emerging Consumer Experience: Emotional Branding,” Procedia – Soc. Behav. Sci., vol. 99, pp. 503–508, 2013.

[4] C. Zdanowicz and E. Grinberg, “Passenger dragged off overbooked United flight,” CNN, 2018. [Online]. Available: Passenger dragged off overbooked United flight. [Accessed: 27-Jun-2018].

[5] C. Leadbeater, “The 10 worst airline PR disasters of all time – where does BA’s meltdown rank?,” The Telegraph, 2017. [Online]. Available: The 10 worst airline PR disasters of all time. [Accessed: 27-Jun-2018].

[6] M. Van Delzen, “Identifying the motives and behaviors of brand hate,” University of Twente, 2014.