Fad vs. trend

Let’s face it: fads attract attention thanks to our fascination over the next big thing. This week’s post takes a look at what distinguishes a fad from a trend. 

Many of us know in the 70s the pet rock dominated, the 80s were about big hair and in the 90s, who can forget grunge? But distinguishing fads from trends is a routine question I am often posed with, so let’s examine both.

Most trend worshippers distinguish fads from trends based on the number of industries the product affects. The philosophy I tend to lean towards is based on time thanks to the theory that fads come and go, but true trends survive even the most difficult tests of time. 

A fad gains popularity quickly although it may fade just as quickly (and sometimes not quickly enough). They typically last a season but may carry over for a couple of years. Clothing, foods, exercises, hairstyles and language are all good examples. Today, fads are heavily driven by social media, and isn’t it ironic that at one time, social media was considered a fad, which has now evolved into a trend?

A trend is a bit slower in pace compared to a fad but may represent something a bit deeper or wider in appeal or scale. Trends also have staying power and often indicate a “permanent” change. Where people live, the jobs they take, their modes of transportation, whether they save for retirement and how much education they endure are all trend examples. A current trend that stands out is the mass appeal of non-celebrities (think reality TV), as it was a trend that took years to develop.

A mega-trend is long-lasting and takes years to develop but has the potential to shift the world landscape. Many trend experts feel mega-trends shape our future. A great example of this is how China was tabbed to be an economic powerhouse several decades ago.  Other examples might be technological changes, urbanization, the aging population, faster network speeds or just the speed of everyday life. 

Although investing in a fad can be a risky decision (especially for hotels or businesses that attempt to set trends), banking on a fad typically happens in a specific industry, and rarely will you find it jumping ship or crossing into another sector. Investing in a fad is often done by smaller companies first, as they tend to have the flexibility to promote faddish products, while larger companies tend to wait until the consumer acceptance is proven before subscribing to it.

I obviously enjoy the task of watching styles, fads and trends change over the years, including how every once in a while they make a comeback.

Following are a few flashbacks to some of the most popular fads and trends from decades past. Feel free to comment on any fads or trends you or your property has adopted or is participating in. (And be sure to distinguish if it’s a fad or trend!)

1920s – 1950s

  • Drive-ins  
  • Betty Boop  
  • Gumby
  • Ant farms
  • Hula hoops  
  • Pez candy dispensers 
  • Smoking
  • Sideburns  
  • Stamp collecting
  • Zoot suits

1960s – 1990s

  • Afros  
  • Black lights  
  • Lava lamps  
  • Mood rings
  • Tie-dye T-shirts  
  • Break dancing
  • Tetherball  
  • The Macarena  
  • Boy bands
  • Tae Bo

2010 – present

  • Angry Birds  
  • Camouflage clothing  
  • Cronuts  
  • Cupcakes  
  • Food trucks
  • Gluten-free diets  
  • Twerking
  • Crossfit  
  • Selfies