These tastemakers, Gladwell concluded, are the spark behind any successful trend. "What we are really saying," he writes, "is that in a given process or system, some people matter more than others." In modern marketing, this idea -- that a tiny cadre of connected people triggers trends -- is enormously seductive. It is the very premise of viral and word-of-mouth campaigns: Reach those rare, all-powerful folks, and you'll reach everyone else through them, basically for free. Loosely, this is referred to as the Influentials theory, and while it has been a marketing touchstone for 50 years, it has recently reentered the mainstream imagination via thousands of marketing studies and a host of best-selling books. In addition to The Tipping Point, there was The Influentials, by marketing gurus Ed Keller and Jon Berry, as well as the gospel according to PR firms such as Burson-Marsteller, which claims "E-Fluentials" can "make or break a brand." According to MarketingVOX, an online marketing news journal, more than $1 billion is spent a year on word-of-mouth campaigns targeting Influentials, an amount growing at 36% a year, faster than any other part of marketing and advertising. That's on top of billions more in PR and ads leveled at the cognoscenti.
Yet, if you believe Watts, all that money and effort is being wasted. Because according to him, Influentials have no such effect. Indeed, they have no special role in trends at all.