What Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point taught me about fixing windows in planning and strategy

“The best thing you can do for your career is to read”. Being a mid-weight planner in Adland, I’ve naturally looked at this statement as more of a hypothesis. What does reading more actually do? Will it help guide the strategic platform for a campaign? Will it help me bring a new perspective to client meetings? Will I bring more enriching ideas to the table? Will I become Yoda?

Normally, after asking one or more questions about something, it means I am curious enough to try it — so here we are. I’ve set myself a challenge of reading 21 industry books before the clock strikes over into 2018, and I hope to bring you along for the ride.

Welcome to Bec’s “Fast-Take” — a platform to share the blurb, the takeout and the big ‘so whats’ from each book I read over the next few months. Let’s kick things off with Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point.


The Tipping Point is Gladwell’s analysis of how trends are sparked and take hold by exploring and pinpointing the moment an idea or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads.

Gladwell explores a number of factors which help brands/ideas reach that tipping point such as the “stickiness factor” (a unique quality that compels the phenomenon to “stick” and influence future behaviour) and the “power of context” (looking at the Broken Windows theory, Gladwell studies how the environment or moment where a trend is introduced is an incremental factor to whether a trend will ‘tip’ into popularity).

What’s the one big thing I took from it?

The Broken Windows Theory is something I find particularly interesting, especially off the back of reading Nudge. It’s a theory that uses broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighbourhoods, linking disorder within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell examines the study of crime rate in NYC in the 1990’s that rapidly declined following a series of small yet influential changes to the physical context of the city’s environment. City authorities tackled crime rates by focusing on seemingly small goals; like painting over graffiti, becoming harsher on subway toll skippers and cracking down on public acts of corruption.

Gladwell argues that it is changes like these that allow for other factors, in this case like the decline in drug trafficking and crime-led mortalities, to gradually tip a new trend in to the environment.

To tie this back in to what we do, we see almost on a daily basis new ideas and products being introduced from a wide number of sources, on a wide number of platforms, targeted to a number of people. Some of these ideas achieve a measure of steady and consistent success, some fail, and some take off into exponential popularity and influence.

What does it mean for how we think and plan as advertisers?

Within the planning process, we are able to gather a rounded view on what is happening within a category level, an audience level and is overlayed with cultural moments and opportunities.

To help your brand reach that tipping point, having an understanding of the context in which your brand is entering in can be the difference in whether an idea is accepted or rejected by the audience.

There is a secondary theory outside of The Tipping Point called Force Field Analysis by Kurt Lewin that looks at the present state of a culture, moment or location and overlays forces that drive or restrain a desired state.


When planning or running your next brainstorm, it is worth having an understanding of cultural influences that surround your audience and pinpoint if the campaign idea is something that will enforce positive forces for change in a present state, or if your idea will need to overcome obstacles to change to a desired state.