Clive Thompson at Fast Company reports on a study by Duncan Watts that concludes the following:
"If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can," Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it's less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public's mood. Sure, there'll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts's terminology, an "accidental Influential."
So the way trends spread is also subject to a "Long Tail" effect.
While reading the article I realized two things.
First I have a feeling this is a very valid theory. Although I think "The Tipping Point" is a very insightful book, I never really saw real-life proof of in applied in marketing campaigns. Sure, working with influentials has generated buzz, but not enough to convince me. The success is nog guaranteed, it's not consistent. I struggled with this idea for a long time, I though I just didn't understand the mechanics. Now I know there may not be any real mechanics to understand.
Secondly, the theory should be comforting to traditional marketeers. How can you give a new trend the best chances of making it into the market? By preparing the grounds, by getting consumers in the correct mindset. And a great way to do that is traditional advertising, provided it is done correctly. Thompson also writes this a the end of the article. Thinking about this a bit further there are probably a number of new marketing techniques that are even better at shifting mindsets. New marketing techniques (branded entertainment, gamevertising, using social media, experience marketing, etc.) are much less intrusive so they gently massage the brain and prepare it for the next big thing.
In summary: great insight!