Welcome back to another episode of Helix House: Digital Marketing in the City. Every installment we look to give you the information to push the digital frontiers for your business. This entry, we are looking at fads, marketing and otherwise. Do they help your business or hamper it? How do smart marketers and advertisers handle fads and trends?

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Well, Let’s get to it!

You remember the summer of 2016? Every brick and mortar business that depended on walk-in traffic was hustling to leverage the boom of Pokémon GO. The Nintendo-Niantic alternate reality game for smartphones saw thousands of people around the globe jumping off their couches and venturing into parks, marketplaces, and more to search for digital creatures. With the sharp uptick in foot traffic around locations, business owners were scrambling to leverage the craze into sales. Many did, becoming popular haunts for Pokémon Go-ers in the heat of digital monster hunting and netting sales.

Now, more than a year later, you would be hard-pressed to find any business advertising to that audience.

What does that mean for business owners, for marketers? To be sure, businesses who adapted to the craze quickly found themselves with sales they wouldn’t have had otherwise. That is the power of fads, an intense following but with a very short half-life. They are not sustainable revenue streams.

Take a look at these numbers from the ALS Bucket Challenge of the summer of 2014, these numbers are from just one month.

fads marketing

This image originally appeared on


The results are staggering. By creating a viral movement, they were able to generate huge numbers of donations. In the months that followed, there were many imitators, hoping to capture that lightning in a bottle to fill their coffers, but none succeeded. Three years later, do you hear anything about similar viral movements? Is a business grasping at the Ice Challenge tactic?

The point here is that fads do have power. But that power does not last. In the parlance of our title, it is a dead end. A lucrative dead end, but a dead end none the less. Properly identifying a fad early and utilizing it can be a boon to business but struggle to adapt to it and risk a loss. Get in and get out before the whole thing crumbles to the ground is the best you can hope for.

Most businesses attempt to catch the fad when the wave has already crested. You want to be the one riding the build-up, or better creating it.

To continue, in the marketing world fads are often juxtaposed with trends. Trends are similar to fads in that they are patterns of customer behavior that can be utilized, but that is where they end. Trends are slow, continuous builds. They are long-term changes that can be reliably strategized for and around. Fads are flashes in the pan. Trends are something to build strategies for.

The two can work together, your business can have a strategy built around a trend. Say, customers are wanting to be more conscious in their buying. They have an environmental responsible bend. This is a long-term change in their habits. To meet this need the strategy would then see your business working to become more conscious. If, during this lifestyle change of moving towards consciousness, the customers also latches onto a television show or meme that deals with fair trade then leveraging that fad can be a tactic in your overall strategy – but it shouldn’t become the strategy.

Imagine, you are in a meeting. During the strategy discussion, someone expresses a clear goal: “We want to go viral!” If you are a marketer I can guarantee you have heard this. If you are a business owner, you may have even expressed these words. I don’t blame you! Going viral nets millions of eyes and attention. But what you are asking for is to create a fad, a short-lived spree of behavior. Anyone would want that attention and possible profit but the risks of such an approach should be weighed heavily.

Frequently things that go viral or become a fad have an equally powerful pushback once the allure has worn off. The audience turns as if they had been duped. The gain now may relate to loss later. An even bigger concern when it comes to marketing with the intent to ‘go viral’ is that what the audience, what the internet latches onto and elevates has no clear science. In many ways, it is playing the lottery with your marketing dollars. When lightning hits it can be awesome but trying to create it can be a massive gamble of resources.

Opposite these fads or going viral are trends.


Trends gain power over time, as Seth Godin puts it (briefly) on his blog ‘A trend gains power over time…. will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.’  Fads exert their power in a spike and then it quickly dissipates. To build a strategy around a fad is ill-advised. It also unlikely to be able to roll out in time to capture the fervor of it.

Building off that, there is another frequent complication when it comes to developing strategies and fads only exasperate it.

Marketers sometimes suffer from a terrible affliction. Shiny Object Syndrome. It is the constant fluctuation of energy from one thing to the next. Fads are some of the biggest culprits of this. A trend is a trustworthy, reliable foundation to build strategies around. But it is hardly flashy. The result of a long-term, slow-building changes in consumer buying habits. It is by its nature predictable. Fads are that hot new thing on the market, a crazy, unexpected shift in buying that entices us to jump on board for quick gains.

There are three possible outcomes of this, and only 1/3rd of them are beneficial. 1) Success, you jumped on early enough and completed the project to net some benefit. 2) Failure, in attempting to capitalize on a fad you arrive too late, finding effort and money wasted. 3) Failure, maneuvering resources to market for a fad, when another more lucrative fad begins, or worse customers backlash on the original fad.

Shiny object syndrome makes this even harder. Those new projects are enticing to us. They are new ideas, new methods to try out, new assets to manipulate and leverage. And so, we jump to the next shiny project, leaving the original one behind. This leads to dozens of incomplete projects, or literally half-baked ideas and the overall strategy suffers. This is why fads can be so dangerous a temptation for marketers. They dial our SOS up to eleven!

The way to subvert this is to maintain a structured, solid strategy and to be, of course, disciplined. Advertising is a science, and it takes time for the results to come in. Stick to a sound strategy and you will see sustainable revenue. If trends and strategy bring sustainable, reliable revenue and fads can -when successfully implemented- bring a windfall, the best bet is to position your business to utilize both.

The guiding principle of 80/20 is in effect. Your marketing dollars should be 80% in strategies that are tried and true. They will reliably turn a profit for you. That allows the other 20% to be available for experimenting or high-risk endeavors, including fads. By keeping those resources available and marked for experimental processes businesses can jump on board fast and not fear to overextend themselves.

Predicting Success

When it comes to trends and fads, being able to predict is key to capitalizing on them. So how do you do it? While being psychic would be useful, you don’t have to have ESP to have a good idea of what’s coming down the pipe. Subscribe to RSS feeds regarding your industry or audience. See where your audience is congregating in digital space and what is the focus of their conversation. Knowing your audience is crucial of course, but proactive work will net you earlier rewards. By studying your audience, you will be able to spot their need or their growing frustrations before they begin to search out answers for their problems and –BAM!- when they do, you will be there with the solution, tailor-made and ready. In the case fo fads, you can see what is capturing their attention and leverage it.


Fads and trends each have their place in a marketer’s toolkit but knowing when to leverage them is crucial. If you’re looking for someone to help with that, we know some people.


Nathan Rea, the lead copywriter at Helix House, is an Arizona native and a graduate from the University of Arizona in Tucson. With a B.A. in English Literature, he is wildly passionate about reading, writing, and boring his friends by talking Cormac McCarthy. He loves writing about the intersection between marketing, culture, technology, and business development. In his free time, he hikes, rock climbs, eats (a lot), and goes to just about every live music event in town.