Updated: Oct 7, 2022
Many businesses seek to use trends as springboards to meaningful connections with consumers. This makes sense in our trend-driven world, but the danger of chasing a fad by mistake looms large. And it threatens to reduce a brand’s hard work to rubble, particularly if they go viral for the wrong reasons on TikTok!
What’s the difference between trends and fads? “According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a trend is defined as “a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving.” On the other hand, a fad is “a style, activity, or interest that is very popular for a short period of time.”
When a brand participates in a trend that resonates with its followers, they’re evolving along with changing times. This is typically a gradual shift toward something impactful. For example – sustainability started as a trendy, niche way to relate to a small, but vocal, consumer base. This movement has grown, winning global adoption, and businesses everywhere are taking steps toward becoming carbon neutral, or even carbon negative.
A fad, on the other hand, has much less staying power – and lots of risk. Consider the #nomakeup trend that’s really a fad, inhabiting an on-again, off-again relationship with consumers. In a world that’s filter-obsessed, with makeup influencers everywhere, a cosmetics brand betting it all on ‘creamy natural’ would be left behind in world of bold looks from big names (think: Kardashians). But if one merely followed the conversation volume about that topic at a set point in time when it was popular, they could be fooled into doing precisely that.
Another popular fad that lacked long-term staying power, but was an AR mobile game is hitting on all the right indicators, and we’ll explore what “the right indicators” are as we dig into the fad vs trend phenomenon below. It’s quite a rabbit hole to explore.
So, how can businesses distinguish between the two in the world intent on amplifying all noise equally? What should brands watch out for when pivoting to stay on trend with their consumer base – and why is this so crucial? It’s the gateway to effective advertising, especially when it comes to advertising on TikTok, the king of trend-based content. Let’s find out
Staying on Trend & In-line with Consumers
Trends offer a great way to connect with consumers, but there’s always a real possibility of irritating consumers if one takes ‘trend participation’ too far and goes all-in with an eagerness that appears disingenuous. While followers appreciate a brand’s recognition of who they are, as well as playful banter that demonstrates cultural awareness – and they definitely respond to well-timed humor – there’s a point when it becomes cringeworthy and the emotional tide turns. It’s akin to parents trying too hard with their teen’s friends – and the response is equally jarring.
And this risk grows exponentially each time a brand misunderstands things and jumps on a fad. Consumers remember, even if only subconsciously.
Chasing a fad is viewed as inauthentic and sneaky – a way to push a sale, disguised as genuine interest. So, what’s a brand to do?
Fantastically Flashy Fads vs Slow & Steady Trends
Trends take time. They’re the slow burn that build momentum in spurts. Oftentimes, they’re part of the cultural zeitgeist prevalent in society and although they may be novel, they make sense when viewed through this lens.
Consumers talk about trends using descriptions like “something we’ve all been waiting for” and those following it are more ‘early adopter’ or ‘niche aficionado’ as opposed to ‘everyone.’
We see that energy in the case of Pokemon GO! Whereas Beanie Babies became a chore, complete with long waits in lines requiring in-person travel, Pokemon GO! remained an adventure to be won – from anywhere. A treasure hunt to be solved, complete with the latest technology – not a shopping list to check off as one trudged to the next partially abandoned mall.
And it’s interesting to note that Pokemon GO! continues to build momentum five years after its release, while the five-year mark was approximately when Beanie Babies began to lose steam. Fads can have long tails and trip up those seeking to distinguish between the two!
Fads hit differently though. When a fad is born, it may start off slowly, disguised as a trend, but interest spikes in a way that leaves onlookers baffled. There’s a sense of urgency around it, as consumers spend inordinate amounts of time talking about it, with a corresponding rush to join in. And there’s a rush for brands too join in as well, as they know it may pass before they get to participate.
The urgency is the biggest indicator here – as it’s a flash in the pan that flames up and then can extinguish just as fast, and with little warning. Followers are passionate, but not to the same intensity. It’s impulsive. Fleeting. The emotional investment is lacking.
But both trends and fads are, ultimately, cut from the same cloth. And possibly the most obvious example of this dichotomy in action is found in TikTok.