There’s a hidden history to every smash success—a web of economics, psychology, and desire that holds our attention. In these new videos, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson reveals fascinating insights from his new, groundbreaking study of how culture gets made, Hit Makers.
How Did the Creator of the Vacuum and Refrigerator Help Design the 20th Century?
In this video, Thompson reviews the work of Raymond Loewy—arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century. Inventor of the modern vacuum, fridge, and tractor, Loewy also devised the ‘MAYA’ rule to product design—“Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable.” To sell something surprising, we need to make it familiar; to sell something familiar, it needs to surprise. As Thompson says: “People adore that which is a little bit familiar … they don’t want new things—they want new things that remind them of old things.”
How Are Buzzfeed and VICE Using an Advertising Playbook from the 1930s?
In Hit Makers, Thompson explores “how media and entertainment companies go from little tiny shops to global empires.” In our second video, he talks about how a Nebraskan salesman revolutionized merchandizing by taking a core product (here, Mickey Mouse) only to branch out with auxiliary products, like soaps, t-shirts, and watches, which end up making more money than the Disney films themselves. People want to “live inside the fantasy created by the original hit maker,” Thompson says—and that’s how today’s entertainment companies find success without being true originators themselves.
What Can Lab Mice Tell Us about Chart-Topping Hits?
Below, Thompson argues that the appeal of pop music is rooted in repetition—something he dubs the “God particle” of the chart-topper. Repetition tricks the brain into hearing noise as music, and studies with lab mice reveal just how much the mammalian brain is trained to pay attention to intervals of notes. And modern pop music—think verse, chorus, bridge!—is all about pleasing patterns of repetition.
Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers hits stores this February. To book Thompson to speak with your organization, call or email The Lavin Agency today.