The Tipping Point

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Hush Puppies Symbol Icon

Malcolm Gladwell uses many concrete examples throughout his book, but arguably the most important example he uses is the Hush Puppy, a kind of shoe popular in the 1950s that briefly became “hip” again in the mid-1990s. For Gladwell, the Hush Puppy is an important symbol of how suddenly and unexpectedly a product, idea, or message can become popular in an open, contemporary society.

Hush Puppies Quotes in The Tipping Point

The The Tipping Point quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hush Puppies. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Back Bay Books edition of The Tipping Point published in 2002.
Chapter Six Quotes

At Lambesis, Gordon developed a network of young, savvy correspondents in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and Dallas and Seattle and around the world in places like Tokyo and London. These were the kind of people who would have been wearing Hush Puppies in the East Village in the early 1990s. They all fit a particular personality type: they were Innovators.

Related Symbols: Hush Puppies
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, we see how an advertising agency called Lambesis was able to boost sales for the shoe company Airwalk by using an elaborate network of “Innovators”—young, hip people who were paid to tell Lambesis about hot new trends. Lambesis used its young correspondents’ advice to make a series of commercials that repackaged various trends into an entertaining form. For example, when the music group The Beastie Boys brought their fans’ attention to the “Free Tibet” movement, Lambesis made a series of commercials featuring a monk who looked like the Dalai Lama. Hip, young people saw the commercial, and—since they were already aware of the “Free Tibet” movement—they were more likely to buy Airwalks because of the association.

In a way, this chapter is a straightforward example of how a company can take advantage of the three laws of social epidemics, increasing the stickiness of their commercials by incorporating new trends. But at the same time, the passage makes another important point: sometimes, trends can “piggyback” off of one another. By associating their product with existing trends, such as the “Free Tibet” movement, Airwalk was able attract many of the same people who’d already been mobilized by this movement. (Gladwell doesn’t address the ethical implications of using a serious political movement like “Free Tibet” to sell shoes—for the most part, his priority is describing how social epidemics work, not arguing whether they’re good or bad.)


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Hush Puppies Symbol Timeline in The Tipping Point

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hush Puppies appears in The Tipping Point. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon
Social Clout and “Word-of-Mouth” Theme Icon
In the mid 1990s, Hush Puppies —an old-fashioned kind of shoe—became suddenly, unexpectedly popular. Fashion photographers in New York City were... (full context)
Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon
...because small changes can have big effects—for example, the handful of Manhattan hipsters who wore Hush Puppies started a trend that eventually influenced millions of American consumers. Finally, the spread of ideas... (full context)
Chapter Two: The Law of the Few
Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon
Social Clout and “Word-of-Mouth” Theme Icon
Context versus Character Theme Icon
...all “mouths” are created equal. Gladwell guesses that one of the reasons that trends like Hush Puppies reach their Tipping Point is that they’re discovered by someone like Lois Weisberg or Roger... (full context)
Social Clout and “Word-of-Mouth” Theme Icon
...they share information openly and honestly. Perhaps someone like Alpert was instrumental in starting the Hush Puppy trend; he found a good deal in shoes that weren’t yet trendy, and told his... (full context)
Chapter Six: Case Study (Rumors, Sneakers, and the Power of Translation)
Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon
Social Clout and “Word-of-Mouth” Theme Icon
...adopt an idea early on, but without taking a substantial risk. The hipsters who wore Hush Puppies in the mid-90s would constitute the Early Adopters, while the fashion designers who then used... (full context)