Trend or fad: How to tell the difference

Is it a trend or a fad?

I know you might think they’re the same thing, but trust me, they’re not.

While both can be popular in the short term, trends have staying power, while fads are often fleeting.

It’s important to make the distinction.

In this article, I’ll dive into the key differences between trends and fads for a business. You’ll learn how to identify trends that can provide long-term growth opportunities and avoid fads that could lead to short-term gains but little sustainable impact.

The bulk of this article comes from my new book, The Opportunity Lenses.

Let’s get started!

What’s a trend

The business definition of a trend

A trend is a general direction or pattern of change in the market or industry practices.

Trends can emerge from various kind of change, such as technological shifts or new cultural norms.

Knowing what the trends are is key to spotting new business opportunities. You may want to bring trends into an opportunity workshop

If you’re to identify and leverage trends, you can gain a clear competitive advantage. That’s because you can shape your strategy around the coming shifts, by launching the right products or services, for example.

Three examples of trends

Let me illustrate with three examples of trends.

Online shopping

Since the 1990s, we’ve seen a steady growth of consumers buying goods and services online.

Online sales trend
The adoption of e-commerce has been a growing trend since the 1990s

Companies that jumped on this trend early have been able to capitalise on it over time (e.g Amazon and Asos). Those that neglected the trend were left behind (e.g. Debenhams, Topshop, and Virgin Megastore).

Remote work

The trend of working from home or other remote locations got a massive push in 2020 and 2021. But it’s not yet widely accepted.

Example of trend - Remote work - Exploding Topics
I use trend-spotting websites like Exploding Topics to identify underlying shifts such as the growing interest in remote work

Companies that do not embrace the trend may struggle to hire the right talent.


There’s a growing trend towards using environmentally-friendly products and reducing waste.

Example of trend - Sustainability - Glimpse
Here, I used the tool Glimpse to find signals of a growing interest in sustainability

Companies that fail to acknowledge that trend may find themselves pressured by the regulation or boycotted by consumers.

What’s a fad

The business definition of a fad

A fad is a short-lived phenomenon that shows a sudden surge in popularity before quickly losing momentum and fading away.

Fads typically arise from novelty or excitement around a new product, service, or idea, rather than a fundamental shift in market demand or industry practices.

Example of fad: Fashion
Fads are often associated with the fashion world, but their impact go beyond clothing and accessories

Fads are difficult to predict or capitalise on since they often lack a strong foundation or sustainable market appeal. If you invest heavily in a fad, you risk losing resources and credibility if the fad loses its popularity too quickly.

Three examples of fads

It’s harder to find good examples of fads, because they are sometimes so short-lived. But here are three examples that I hope will resonate.

Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet was a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet that gained widespread popularity in the early 2000s.

Fad example: The Atkin Diet
The data from Exploding Topics show clearly that Atkin Diet has peaked in the 2000s, and the interest in it has been declining ever since

The fad was driven by a desire for quick weight loss, and the diet’s emphasis on eating bacon, steak, and other fatty foods was appealing to many people.

Fads as signals of trends: Though the fad faded as concerns arose about the diet’s long-term health effects, it is a signal of a growing trend of people being more health conscious, especially around the consumption of carbs.

Fidget spinners

Fidget spinners are the quintessential example of a fad. The appeal for this toy came out of nowhere. No one could have anticipated its intense, but brief success.

Fad example: Fidget spinner
Fidget spinners were a fad that grew out of social media and lasted only a few months

Fidget spinners became incredibly popular through social media. The fad arose in 2017, but only lasted a few months.

Why shall we care? Well… many retailers that stocked up fidget spinners ended up stuck with massive stocks and no way to sell them.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go became an instant hit in the summer of 2016. It was massive craze that lasted a couple of years.

Fad example: Pokemon Go
Fads often arise as new exciting products or services, like Pokemon Go. But they can also be signals of underlying trends

The mobile game used augmented reality technology to allow players to catch Pokemon creatures in the real world. The fad drove people to explore their cities and communities, and it quickly became a cultural phenomenon.

Fads as signals of trends: Though Pokemon Go faded away, it is still a signal for a growing trend towards online gaming and augmented reality technology.

What makes a trend different from a fad

Let me highlight some of the key differences between trends and fad.

DurationTrends are long-lastingFad are short-lived
PopularityTrends have a more gradual rise in popularity over timeFads gain sudden popularity in a short period of time
OriginTrends are driven by underlying changes in consumer behaviour or technologyFads are driven by novelty, excitement, and hype
Business impactTrends can create new business opportunities and may lead to the development of new products and servicesFads may only provide short-term opportunities for businesses
ImplicationsTrends require innovation and technological advancements to be taken advantage ofFads may not require significant innovation or technological advancements to be successful
BrandingTrends can be the foundation for a strong brand and customer loyaltyFads can only contribute to building long-term brand loyalty

Here’s how I would sum up the distinction:

A trend can help you set the direction for your company, while fads can only be the source of short-term gains if you’re fast enough to catch them.

Is it a trend or a fad?

A trend is something that’s developing and changing over time, while a fad is a sudden, short-lived craze.

So, why does this matter for your business?

Well, if you can spot a trend early on, you can get ahead of the game and position yourself as a leader in that market. But if you invest too heavily in a fad, you’re taking a risk because it’s likely to fizzle out just as quickly as it appeared.

TikTok: Trend or fad
Brands and creators have been asking themselves the question about TikTok: Is it a trend or fad?

But it’s not always easy to understand whether something is trend or a fad. Here are some examples:

  • Bitcoin: Trend or fad?
  • TikTok: Trend or fad?
  • Metaverse: Trend or fad?
  • Generative AI: Trend or fad?

What do you think?

Try to do your own analysis with Exploding Topics or Glimpse.

How you can learn to see through the noise

If you’re looking to identify new business opportunities, it’s important to understand the difference between trends and fads.

But it’s just one component for successful opportunity discovery.

The Opportunity Lenses - Identify business opportunities
My latest book, The Opportunity Lenses, explains how consulting firms identify new business opportunities

To dive deeper, have a look at The Opportunity Lenses. In my latest book, I give the tools and techniques to help you spot the business opportunities that will fuel the growth of your company.