What is the Difference Between a Fad and a Trend?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

There are a number of industries whose very survival depends on recognizing the difference between a fad and a trend. A fad by definition is a short-term event, what some may call a "flash in the pan." A trend, on the other hand, has the potential of becoming a long-term influence on the future of a market. The two may resemble each other at first, but there is almost always a definite beginning and a definite end to a fad. The use of hot pink wall paint may be a fad, but the idea of using designer colors would be a trend, for example.

The pet rock is an iconic example of a fad.
The pet rock is an iconic example of a fad.

One major difference between a fad and a trend is duration. A fad product, such as the Pet Rock of the 1970s, enjoys a few months of unexpected popularity, but disappears just as quickly as it appears. The creator of the Pet Rock, a large stone nestled in its own cardboard cage, understood the easy-come, easy-go nature of a fad and capitalized on the public's penchant for novelty toys. The lifespan of most fads is notoriously short, but if a fad item becomes a trend, it can remain popular for decades.

The iPod Touch is part of a continuing trend.
The iPod Touch is part of a continuing trend.

Some say that the difference between a fad and a trend is the number of industries it affects. A fad often appears in a single industry and rarely crosses over into others. The 1980s fashion fad of parachute pants, trousers made from a thin nylon material, did not become an accepted element of the youth culture or the music culture. The recent introduction of Apple's iPod®, on the other hand, crossed over into the worlds of fashion, wireless communications and music. Portable electronic devices have become a trend, while fashions such as leg warmers or parachute pants remain fads hopelessly trapped in time.

Another difference is industry acceptance. Investing in a fad item can be risky for companies known for setting trends. It can be very difficult to tell the difference one and the other before the product or service reaches the buying public. Smaller companies often have the flexibility necessary to promote a faddish item, while larger companies tend to wait until the initial smoke clears and a trend can be determined.

This difference can be seen in the recent diet wars. When scientific evidence demonstrated a link between high carbohydrate intake and weight gain, a number of fad diet plans quickly emerged. Although the move away from processed foods and carbohydrates soon became a trend, the individual diet plans involved all enjoyed a fleeting popularity.

A similar difference between a fad and a trend also appeared in the fitness industry. An emphasis on core exercises and the reduction of abdominal fat became a trend, but a number of faddish exercise devices appeared suddenly on television screens everywhere. Some of these exercise devices were shown to be ineffective or even dangerous for the user, while others became part of the trend towards better health and weight reduction. One of the telling differences between a fad and a trend is the perception of overall quality. Fad items are rarely expected to endure, but trends tend to survive the decade in which they were created.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


BrickBack-I love Weight Watchers. I find the meetings so motivating, they really make a difference.

You learn to look at weight loss as a long term life changing thing. They say that it is a lifestyle change and not a diet. In addition, their motto, “Progress not Perfection” really resonates with the members because we all want to get to our weight loss goal immediately.

They offer weekly payment plans which are like $13 per week, or you can pay for a ten week block for about $125. I prefer the block because it forces me to go to the meetings.

The nice thing about Weight Watchers is that if you have a bad week, it is okay because all of the members at one time or another have had that problem and they often share their experiences so you end of not feeling alone like you are the only one with the struggle.


Greenweaver-I agree with you. I think that weight loss should be comprehensive and should include a balanced diet with exercise.

Including other people in your weight loss journey also makes you more successful. For example, Weight Watchers says that people generally lose three times more weight with them than when they diet alone.

Weight Watchers is a lifestyle change. No one at Weight Watchers refers to their eating program as a diet. With the point system, members are able to eat a variety of foods and are given a point’s calculator in order to determine the point value of a particular food.

In addition, Weight Watchers offers weekly support meetings for its members that discuss a weekly theme on how to combat a particular weight loss issue.

The members are weighed weekly and are given motivational tokens when they reach specific milestones in their weight loss.


I think that a weight loss fad of the Cookie diet or the grapefruit diets are not a good idea. These diets yield short term results that most dieters gain back because they have not modified their way of eating or increased their level of physical activity.

These diets do not address the reason why most people are overweight and how to combat the problem for good.

Although the initial weight loss may be high, it is difficult to sustain because you get bored eating the same thing and your body needs proper nutrients.

These fad diets often lead to greater weight gain because the dieter goes back to their old eating habits and usually gains more than they lost. This form of yo-yo dieting is actually dangerous and could be detrimental to the heart.


A diet fad is really a popular diet in which people follow to lose weight. A weight loss fad like this is dangerous because a diet should be well balanced in order to continue to receive nutrients.

Fad diets often lack a representation of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins which are the cornerstone of any healthy weight loss program.

Weekly weight loss should be between one to two pounds in order for it to be healthy weight loss. The maximum amount of fat loss a week is two pounds, anything beyond that it water or lean muscle tissue.

Also, weight loss beyond the standard one to two pounds is not sustainable over time.

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