In the world portrayed by New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller, “The Tipping Point,” our shopping and consumption habits are tethered to the tastes of people called Connectors.

These are sociable, influential early adopters so skilled at ferreting out new products, fashions and ideas—and then telling everyone about them—that cultural movements inevitably follow their casual cocktail-party recommendations.

Since “The Tipping Point” hit the best-seller lists in 2000 and camped there for 28 weeks, marketing gurus have been angling to convert Gladwell’s musings into practical tools for injecting products into the cultural slipstream. Public-relations firms now develop databases of known Connectors, while companies festoon free gear on the greatest Connectors of all—celebrities. The New York Times recently dubbed the practice “alms for the rich” and the “trickle-up theory of branding.” Put your product in the right hands (or drape it around the right bodies at the right time, such as a high-profile wedding), and poorer wannabees worldwide will quickly begin shelling out real dollars.

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