Is The Internet Causing The World To Become More Faddish?
Unique thinking has always been something of a rarity among the human race. Humans are social creatures that like to fit in. We love to talk, tell stories, share ideas, and even copy some of the best ideas. We also tend to follow the people we believe to be authorities.
This behavioral tendency leads to fads and faddish behavior. Take for example Tulip-mania. According to historians, many Dutch investors believed paying ridiculous sums for tulip bulbs was a good investing idea.
Unfortunately history didn’t treat those investors very kindly. It was a ‘investing fad’, and many tulip investors got burned when the bubble popped. They forgot the fundamentals of investing. In the 1990’s something similar happened again, this time with Beanie Babies.
People went nuts for beanie babies — paying ridiculous prices with the intent of reselling them to making money. It was of course a giant fad that wasted a ton of people’s money.
What I find most interesting about the beanie baby fad, is that it was the very first internet fad. The toy company Ty Inc. was one of the first businesses to use a website to “engage its audience”.
Every beanie baby tag had the company’s website on it, and a call to action: “Visit our webpage!!!”. Certainly the audience for beanie babies was already going online — either to check the market value of the toy OR to sell it on Ebay. Ty Inc. just stoked the fires.
Reportedly, some beanie babies sold on Ebay for as high as 10x retail price.
Tulips and stuffed toys were only the beginning of course. This tendency of the human race to flock together like lemmings isn’t going away anytime soon! In fact, evidence suggests that the internet and social media are making this particular human trait even worse…
New Fads Move Fast
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Instant Pot. In the span of just a few years this kitchen device has wormed its way into our homes at an unprecedented rate. According to the Chicago Tribune, 11% of U.S. households now own an Instant Pot.
A rise in popularity that fast for a kitchen device, just screams FAD to me. Fads catch hold quickly like that, and then die-out as the zeitgeist moves on. Long term societal changes typically happen at a much slower rate of change and maintain that importance over a much longer period of time.
Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh. Maybe this amazing new “wonder device” can do something no other cooking gadget can?
Nope. It merely combines the functions of a pressure cooker and a slow cooker together. Devices we’ve had in our kitchens since the 1950’s.
Critics might argue it frees up space in our already crowded kitchen cabinets with one master “do-all” gadget that handles everything. Okay…
Jack-of-all trades and master-of-none, I say. At any rate, I’m not buying into the fad and forking over money for one of these cookers. The more interesting part of this story is how I benefited from the fad.
You see, over the last two years Mrs. Tako and I have seen a rash of pressure cookers and slow cookers showing-up in our local free-cycle groups. People are just giving them away!
We’ve been able to upgrade our home slow-cooker and pressure cooker to some very high-quality models for absolutely free.
You see once someone buys a Instant Pot, they no longer need a separate pressure cooker or slow-cooker. They simply dump their previously treasured small appliances on the “free” market or donate it to a thrift store.
It’s a ‘win’ for them and a ‘win’ for me, except I’m not forking over $100 for one.
A Product Of The Internet Age
As previously mentioned, very little about the Instant Pot was true innovation. Not only did we already have slow cookers and pressure cookers in our homes, but electric pressure cookers already existed in Asia for quite some time. If you’ve ever traveled to Asia, you probably saw a similar device for sale in stores.
No, the real innovation of the Instant Pot explosion was how the product marketed itself — The fledgling company was started in 2010 and DID NOT engage in traditional marketing. They paid for absolutely no TV or print advertising, yet it’s been a overflowing success.
Sales in the first few years were slow (about 500 units the first year), but really started to catch fire once the company embraced a social media marketing strategy. In 2015, the company created a Facebook group, and started advertising on Amazon’s Deal Of The Day. Instant Pot also started handing-out free Instant Pots to popular food bloggers.
In my mind, this is when things really started to take-off for the company (and where I first heard about the Instant Pot brand). Food bloggers really took to the product, giving it rave reviews. They also started posting their favorite recipes online.
Those early food bloggers were influencers, commanding legions of faithful devotees to go on Amazon, buy the product, and make the recipes they posted on the internet. Success was lightning fast, and the pressure cooker can now be found on store shelves at the most popular US retailers, like Walmart and Costco.
It’s Better Than Celebrity Endorsement
Using influencers is nothing new of course. Since the earliest days of the 20th century, companies have used atheletes and movie stars to endorse products. Those were the big influencers of that day and age.
The difference today, is that the internet and social media has changed the game. While celebrity endorsements still increases sales, celebrities are expensive. They expect to be paid well, and companies run the risk of receiving backlash if a celebrity does something unpopular.
Recent examples like the Instant Pot have shown that grassroots social media advertising (like creating a Facebook group and handing out free pressure cookers) is much cheaper and (in some cases) considerably more effective than using celebrities.
Why does the grassroots marketing that Instant Pot used work so well? I think it’s partly because when a celebrity promotes a product we already know they’re being paid to promote it. The credibility of celebrities is pretty low even though their audience is large. We’re so used to celebrities selling stuff, that our brains kind of turn-off the sales pitch.
With small bloggers and other small social media influencers, we don’t often think of them as being paid to promote products. Credibility is much higher with these non-celebrity influencers — They’re just like us, and their passions for the product really shine through when they love something.
Low-level influencers also directly interact with their audience, answer questions, and are far more relate-able than a paid celebrity who makes millions of dollars per year shilling for a product.
That solid credibility sells products, and it can do so incredibly quickly. Smart corporate marketing teams have caught-on to this and are now using it to promote new products and brands that wouldn’t normally be able to make headway against the larger well founded products.
I’m no a marketing expert, but evidence suggests this is leading to faster fads and more of them.
Profiting From The Rise Of Fast Fads
If you look closely, most popular viral fads are selling a product. At you would expect, the product always sells for full retail price as it gains in popularity. After the market for the product is completely saturated, then the (price) discounting begins. Retailers want to get rid of excessive inventory, so they use discounts to attract late adopters.
Knowing when to “buy” a fad product is key to saving yourself money… if you still actually want the product after the fad has run its course.
So how do we know when to buy?
Google trends is the tool I use. It can tell me the relative popularity of internet search terms over time. In other words: what’s trending.
For example, the Spiralizer fad took 4 years to peak, and has slowly tailored off since then. Discounting on the product has begun, and manufacturing volumes are probably slowing down to match lower retail volumes.
A quick search on Amazon reveals that many spiralizer brands have coupons varying from $1 to $10 off right now. You could probably wait a little longer and score even bigger discounts.
In 2017, the big fad was fidget spinners. They came and went in a matter of months. This is a perfect example of a viral hit that peaked and then disappeared in a very short amount of time.
If you still hold any interest in fidget spinners, I’m almost positive you can find someone willing to give you one now. Or, check your thrift store toy section. They’re everywhere!
Netflix Can Create Social Media Fads
As far as more recent fads go, the Marie Kondo “Tidying-up” fad looks like a candidate for being a fast fad that’s almost done. This one launched and peaked in 4 months. That’s incredibly fast.
According to Newsweek, her book sold over 8 million copies before the Netflix show… but I bet you’d never heard of Marie Kondo until the Netflix show happened though. Yes, the Netflix-effect is a real thing. What Netflix chooses to recommend (or promote) strongly effects social media popularity, and social media popularity now controls how many consumers think, act, and feel.
The amount of internet mind-share Netflix controls is kind of scary.
Should you still be interested in Marie Kondo’s book, now is definitely the time to check your local library. Or, ask around your friends to see if you can borrow a copy. They might have a few gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. 😉
Failing those options, Amazon is selling the book at half price. Even less if you don’t mind a used copy.
The Paleo diet is a great example of a “diet fad” that’s now past its peak and starting to disappear. If you have any interest in the paleo diet, now’s the time to start looking for the books that people are giving away (or giving to the thrift store thanks to Marie Kondo).
Maybe you’ve already moved onto the Keto diet however. That’s the new hotness. This new diet seems to have repaced paleo, but has yet to reach its peak:
I don’t understand why, but almost 100% of the time food diets exhibit very fad like behavior in the human population. Show me a new diet and I’ll show you a new fad!
The Instant Pot Fad
So, your probably wondering…. “What about the Instant Pot?” Well, that’s another fad that hasn’t reached its peak yet. The Instant Pot trends data shows the typical fast rise of a viral fad, but it also seems most popular during the Christmas season. So we really won’t be able to tell if the Instant Pot has peaked until next Christmas.
Based upon that evidence, it could be a long while before I can find an Instant Pot for free (or at my local thrift store for a couple of bucks), but that’s totally fine! I’m quite happy with my free Hamilton Beach slow cooker (retail price is $39) and my free Splendid pressure cooker (retails at around $80).
Internet Investing Fads
It’s not just physical things that become viral internet fads either. Investing also has it’s fads, and one of the most entertaining in recent memory was bitcoin.
This so-called “digital currency” spiked in popularity when blogs, social media, and even traditional news media started reporting on all the incredible ‘investing’ gains’ early adopters were making. Near the end of 2017 everyone was talking about bitcoin. Even the Financial Independence community.
Now, as any half-awake economics 101 student can tell you, when you have fix supply of something (bitcoins), the price will vary with demand. As it did with bitcoin. When the viral internet buzz hit its peak, so did the price of a bitcoin. When the buzz finally faded, so did the price of a bitcoin.
Coincidence? Not at all. If you look closely at the graphs above, they’re almost mirror images of one another. If internet searches are a proxy for demand, then the price should absolutely move in response to that demand.
Remember: Investing is not about capturing popularity — that’s just speculation. Investing is about capturing economic gains from compounding.
Is Financial Independence A Fad?
Recently, Joe over at RetireBy40 asked the question “Is The FIRE Movement a Fad?” and I’d be absolutely remiss if I wrote a post about fads without addressing this question.
Joe thought it was a fad, but my analysis shows financial independence as a slow-burning trend that’s been around for a very long time.
Unfortunately you can’t just put FIRE into Google Trends to get a nice graph. In that case you just end-up with a common search term that peaks during fire season or during particularly bad fires.
“Early retirement” itself shows up as a steady state like “financial independence”
So my analysis says that Financial independence really isn’t a fad, it’s a societal change where people are slowly waking up to the fact that companies don’t have our best interests at heart. There are no pensions funds anymore. Social security isn’t going to pay the bills for a comfortable retirement. I’ve said it already — The FIRE Movement Was Inevitable.
There you have it my friends. Fads and crowd behavior have long effected humanity. With the rise of the internet and social media this phenomenon seems to be getting worse, and now companies use it to market products more effectively.
Identifying when something is a fad and avoiding it is a skill that can save you money. The trouble is, when you’re in the midst of a fad it’s almost impossible to identify that it is a fad. For me, Google Trends is a huge help. I can quickly gauge the velocity with which a new product takes hold of the world. When you compare these trends against a similar yet more “solid state” ideas, fads become very evident.
This understanding also provides key signals for when to buy and when to avoid fads.
For me, the Instant Pot looks like a perfect example of one of these internet marketing fads. One that hasn’t fully run it’s course yet. Once that fad is over, I’ll probably pick one up for free…
Just to try it out. 😉
[Image Credit: Yourbestdigs, Flickr, WholeLifeChallenge]
34 thoughts on “Is The Internet Causing The World To Become More Faddish?”
I dunno – sometimes it does seem easy to identify a fad when you’re in the midst of it. I think your point above that sometimes a fad isn’t anything truly new / innovative but just a twist or new audience for something that’s been around a long time is the key. The internet as a lever for fads is certainly undeniable!
We have missed the Instant Pot craze, mainly because I live under a rock and when the missus said we need one I asked what it did that our existing kit didn’t (reference: see Tako commentary above) 🙂
I think the concept of FIRE will never be a fad because it’s been around so long, is so hard, and is so against normal human nature, whereas fads are the embodiment of (the worst of) human nature. Now, interest in FIRE (esp. by that specific moniker) is another thing altogether – that feels positively faddish!
Right on — good job resisting the Instant Pot craze Paul! Something like half our family friends have them, and I’m not terribly impressed.
Nothing I can’t already do with our pressure cooker!
I like the idea off using Google Trends to identify fads and trends. I think the internet but more specifically social media are definitely fueling fads and trends. They’re also making fads more diverse and numerous. All of it is probably bad for those who have a hard time avoiding lifestyle inflation.
EXACTLY Dave! Social media has definitely fueled the fad fire (pun intended) in my opinion, and that can’t be good for folks trying to get ahead!
What a great way to tease these out, I hadn’t thought to use google trends. And it totally is scary how much sway netflix /amazon /google have over us all. Thank goodness I’m cheap and wait until things I want are reduced or given to me as a matter of course. 🙂 Got 2 electric pressure cookers within a few weeks of each other last year. Didn’t toss my 2 slow cookers though. They have their own separate strengths. Thanks for the perspective.
Thanks for the comment BE! At some point we’ll probably “inherit” a electric pressure cooker, but for now I’m happy with my existing pressure cooker and slow cooker.
Interesting point about the merits of a slow cooker — why are you keeping yours? 🙂
I like “low and slow” for a lot of things, like meats or chili or stews, that the speed of a pressure cooker doesn’t do it quite the same justice, plus its good to just keep things warm like at a buffet or house party. And to start something that is ready as soon as I am, not a “put in cooker and now wait 40 minutes” meal. Plus the smaller one is awesome for dips or taking small batches of something to a party. But the pressure cooker excels when you want a long cooking thing ready much faster, and it really shines with beans. Dry to edible in 40 minutes Amazing.
I have the instant pot! I wanted a slow cooker and our very old pressure cooker is very frightening, south Asian mother in law uses it, these things explode and my husband has seen the evidence! Also, he will cook using the instapot which is a nice miracle. Sadly, I did succumb and buy him a fidget spinner which has lost its lustre, sigh. Otherwise I am out 9/10 of the way to FIRE.
Well, I’ve never heard of a *modern* pressure cooker exploding. Maybe with the old school ones it was hard to tell when the contents were still under pressure, but my modern one has several locks and safety features that keep things safe.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker or slow cooker, an electric pressure cooker is definitely one option. Not the most frugal option (as I explained earlier), but definitely an option.
Great article…I bought an instant pot in 2015 after the Nom Nom Paleo blog raved about it non stop…yes I even bought the inevitable Nom Nom Paleo cook book that then followed!! I’d never used a crock pot or pressure cooker before so I was 100% all in on the virtues of the instant pot, I do still use it occasionally today, but my husband will love your article about it being a fad as he often rolls his eyes whenever I pull it out of the back of the pantry!
Haha! Thanks Rachel. I actually use our *regular* pressure cooker about 1-2 times per week, so I’m one of the people that might be a good candidate for one of these electric models…
Sadly, the people I see buying an Instant Pot are almost always the people who don’t cook much. The kind that eat-out and buy takeout several nights a week. They fell victim to an internet fad.
I’m thinking it’ll be a coupe of years and those will ultimately end-up on the ‘free’ market.
I want to address to clear issue of hyper-consumerism and social media marketing. So much of this “purchasing to belong” and FOMO is merely a reflection of tremendous loneliness and alienation. All of this buying and the attendant environmental destruction are symptomatic of millions of people who are living nearly their entire lives on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. It is really pretty heartbreaking.
Cool post Mr. Tako. I actually have my own post on Tulipmania scheduled on the books for the day before the start of spring (which can’t get here fast enough in my opinion).
Love the graphs showing how fads trend over time. Instapot definitely is the current media darling and kudos for the company to recognize an advertising resource and run with it. Good point about how the products it replaces can now be had at deeply discounted margins.
Thanks Xrayvsn! I always love your insightful comments! 🙂
I do have an instant pot, but it was actually recommended to me by a friend when when I was working. It did allow me to cook meat if I forgot to defrost it. We are big meat eater in our house so it does allow tenderizing tougher pieces of meat in almost half the time. I’ll have to say it is a fad, I could probably make do without it, but since I do have it, mind as well use it.
Sure Khanya, if you already have one — absolutely put those dollars to work. Don’t let it collect dust in a closet somewhere!
I never heard of an Instant pot until I just read this post. Chalk it up to living overseas and being out of that loop.
I do like the analysis of using Google trends, and will have to play around with this myself.
I wanted to ask you, have you ever read the book “Payback time” by Phil Towne? There are some nice tools for evaluating companies and creating some sensitivity analysis for a margin of safety when looking to buy companies. This will be another tool for me to use in addition to the other existing tools so I can prune and trim the portfolio.
I haven’t read it Mike — I’ll check it out! Thanks for the book tip!
Good post! Usually, I’m very slow to get a fad. I just don’t pay attention enough.
The Instant Pot sounds good, though. We just don’t have space for it, which is a good thing.
I’ll look around for a nice used (or free) pressure cooker instead. Well, I already survived 45 years without one so maybe I don’t need one after all.
Financial Independence is good. Hopefully, more people will work on it.
Oh man, pressure cookers and slow cookers are everywhere right now because of the Instant Pot fad.
I actually really like cooking with a pressure cooker — they can really speed up the cooking time on certain items. But they’re not useful for everything (as the Instant Pot tries to be).
If you can find a cheap or free one, it might be a fun cooking experiment! 🙂
I agree that FIRE is not a fad. I, and am sure many others, were Firing well before it was a thing. We just simply saved more than we earned but did not publicise it much.
What has happened is
1) the blog universe giving FIRE a name, publicity and ability to discuss it. I am pretty sure there is a disproportionate number of introverts in the FIRE community so pre blogging it received very little publicity. Blogging removes some of the barriers introverts struggle with.
2) A transfer from collective risk via company pension funds to individual risk near enough making people invest in stocks.
3) Exceptional stock returns – especially in the US – over the past 10 years. I suspect if we had a 1929 event FIRE would be talked about a little less than it is now! But even in that event savers are still going save! (And spenders are still going to spend.)
Well said Pj! Stock returns have been great for the past decade, so I can’t complain much!
That said, when the next recession comes I think *a lot* of people are going to realize they’ve been buying in at high prices.
Price does matter!
I definitely agree with your post, but I have to comment to say I think the Instant Pot is a bad example. Sure, we’ve had pressure cookers and slow cookers for decades. But pressure cookers explode and kill people, and slow cookers are slow! I am quite confident electric pressure cookers will be a fixture of the American home going forward. We got our first one about 5 years ago and have been using it multiple times a day ever since. Game changer.
Oh, you mean dangerous like this electric pressure cooker that put a child in the hospital: https://kfor.com/2019/01/15/9-year-old-severely-burned-after-pressure-cooker-accident/
Or maybe this electric pressure cooker in Santa Clara:
Or this woman in Texas that got burned when her Instant Pot exploded:
Or this Florida woman:
I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. Instant Pots are not necessarily any safer than a traditional pressure cooker.
Not a game changer. Just an improvement on existing technology.
I would say each of those articles has taken some liberty with the word “explosion.” Looks like each case was some combination of user error and a boil-over. But your point is taken. There are always risks when combining temperature and pressure.
Good article. I agree that the hype of the instapot is a fad, but I think there is also an element of evolution at play with the instapot. I like to cook so my inlaws gave me one as a Christmas present. I pretty much just use it as a pressure cooker. I never felt safe using the old pressure cookers. The instapot added safety and technology to a pressure cooker along with some versatility to do some other things. However, I see people getting them who don’t even use their crockpot and rarely use their pots and pans. I think that segment of the population will fade off.
As far as the FI/RE movement being a fad, I agree with you that it has been around for a long time. What I think has changed is the naming of it as the FIRE movement. I recently wrote an article talking about the “Pay Yourself First” terminology. That was the term I always heard bandied around by people 20 years ago. I believe the current movement sort of absorbed this Pay Yourself First and added a few elements and now we have FIRE. Just my 2 cents.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think they’re a handy kitchen tool. If you get one as a gift — fantastic! Be sure to put it to good use.
But yeah, there’s a huge segment of the population that’s buying them that do not cook. Half of our family friends own them, and most of them don’t really cook more than once or twice a week. The Instant Pot gets used once or twice a month a best.
Don’t kid yourself — Electric pressure cookers can be just as dangerous as the old ones. Be careful with your Instant Pot. They’re still dangerous — Just look at some of the links I put in an earlier comment. 🙂
The Instapot may be a fad, but I don’t think electric pressure cookers are.
We’ve had one for 10 years, and it has replaced our slow cooker, oven and stove for many recipes. I use it probably 3-4 times a week (twice yesterday) to cook all kinds of things
and it has really expanded our menu. I even adapted the Mr. Tako Butter Chicken recipe
to use bone-in chicken thighs in my cooker and my family all love it.
Kenji Lopez-Alt has some great recipes and tips on seriouseats.com for using an electric pressure cooker. We use his pork chili verde recipe quite often.
I don’t think you’d be disappointed if you bought one.
Great use of the butter chicken recipe! I often make it in our old-school pressure cooker too!
I’m sure they’ll start showing up on the ‘free’ market in a year or two, no need to spend money on one! 😉
Instant Pot… guilty as charged. Our slow cooker died and Mrs. R2R was all about the Instant Pot. Like you said, she probably read about it from other bloggers (she lives on Pinterest). I hadn’t thought about checking the free-cycle groups or even something like Craigslist or OfferUp.
I also love the idea of using Google Trends to track this kind of stuff. You’re always on top of all the great ideas, Mr. Tako!
Super interesting article. I think it was easy to spot that the fidget spinner was a fad but Google analytics might be another scrub before I decide to buy items.
I fell into the ‘trap’ of purchasing an Instant Pot and was afraid to use it for 6 months. When I finally did, I began using it 4-5 times/week. We eat a vegetarian diet that consist of plenty of beans, soups and curries. It is fantastic having dinner done in less than 40 minutes without having to stand at the stove babysitting a soup, etc. I have other things I want to do.
My 3 crock pots are down stairs. I keep them to use on the holidays to keep potatoes/gravy/stuffing warm. Plus as a back up in case something happened to the Instant Pot.
Another great article!
Instant Pot doesn’t feel like a fad to me. As you have mentioned, it has been around for a number of years and it still hasn’t reached its peak yet. There is also a benefit to the product (2 in 1). Unlike tulips and Beanie Babies, there is a reason for Instant Pot to exist. Now, Instant Pot might eventually be replaced by a better product. I don’t see that as the end of a fad but the progression of business (goal is to come out with an improved product at a cheaper price).
It is great to be able to capitalized on a fad, especially at the on-set before the fad hits mainstream. I was fortunate enough 20 years ago to hit the Yugioh craze before it became big in the US. Made good money selling Yugioh cards and products as well as selling ads on my highly trafficked Yugioh dedicated website. It was nice income until Yugioh fell off fast. Wasn’t smart enough to leverage the base to pivot to another business. I don’t plan to make that mistake again if I ever hit another wave like that again.
Interesting take, Mr. Tako, but you’ll have to pry my Instant Pot out of my cold, dead hands (update: there was supposed to be a laughing emoji here, but it was deleted and made my first comment sound scary) I bought one on sale about a year ago when our rice cooker bit the dust. Since it takes up so much room, I wanted something that would be a multi-use tool and I’ve since fallen in love. I use our Instant Pot a few times a week, and would probably use it more but we’re pescatarians so we don’t cook meat in ours.
I do think that fads are more likely to happen now thanks to the internet, and specifically social media. I’m no longer on Facebook and I feel like I do miss out on some of these things now, but I’m not complaining. I’ve also streamlined my Instagram and have unfollowed most people who only try to sell me things.
I am now reading this post. I feel like air fryers are another fad. I recently picked a brand new one up for $20. It was $100 before.