Nothing propels a fad like the internet’s enthusiasm. Sure, passing trends predate the era of the web (any ’90s kids out there remember wallet chains?), but the digital age offers endless platforms for short-term fascination. Buoyed by social media and our instantaneous news cycle, fads ride the internet’s viral wave to ubiquity. What else could cause grown adults to fawn over fidget spinners?
But as soon as they seem universal, each fad is replaced by some new phenomenon. Be it a meme or a mobile application, a trend lives and dies by the web’s fickle focus. We set out to track this boom-to-bust pattern, studying how fads rise and fall in today’s digital culture. To do so, we used Google Trends data on search volumes to determine the pattern of queries related to a range of recent trends. Our analysis includes videos, products, apps, and memes – the four crazes most likely to emerge online these days.
Our results show how quickly fads are loved and lost in the cycle of internet interest. Continue reading to see how fads flourish and fade online today.
Nothing Lasts Forever
By definition, fads enjoy a short shelf life. But just how brief will a fad’s time in the spotlight be? Our research shows the answer varies by the kind of fad examined. In our analysis, videos were the shortest lived fad variety. While they may rack up billions of views, there’s good reason viral videos flare up and flame out quickly. Once you see the content a few times, you’re unlikely to keep watching it for weeks. (OK, maybe you still look up “Gangnam Style” for nostalgic effect). Because fad products are similarly unlikely to deliver lasting utility (we hope you’re not still wearing your Silly Bandz), their popularity lasts only about four months longer than a video’s popularity, on average.
Apps enjoyed a much greater period of public fascination, averaging a significant search volume for nearly 19 months, on average. That lifespan is explained, in part, by app makers’ pursuit of repeat users, rather than one-time appeal. While recent data suggest many users tire of applications quickly, ad revenue makes retention valuable. Memes, however, were the most durable fad of all. Because they can be endlessly adapted to refer to a range of situations, it’s no wonder they tend to stick around once they circulate on social media. There’s no shortage of things for Grumpy Cat to frown about.
Depending on your opinion of digital narcissism, you may be encouraged or dismayed by the selfie stick’s perseverance. The self-portrait enabler was the longest lasting product fad we studied, with significant search volumes for no fewer than 30 months. Coming in a distant second was an edible source of intrigue: the Cronut. The hybrid of two beloved pastry parents (a donut and croissant), this sweet treat lingered in the minds of searchers for more than a year.
It should be said that seasonality might explain the fortunes of some of our briefest fads. Some suggest fidget spinners sooth classroom agitation and anxiety, so their appeal was destined to decline once summer arrived. Hatchimals were a holiday-centric fixation in 2016, but the makers of the egg-busting phenomenon are hoping to rekindle their sales again this year.
The Meme Maintains
Pedobear, the crude cartoon employed to disparage creepy comments in the internet’s weirder channels, has seen the most sustained interest of any meme on our list. That’s probably because the authorities have historically misinterpreted its meaning in condemning it, leading users to search for answers. The other memes in the top five come courtesy of TV and film but owe their longevity to their flexibility beyond their respective sources. Long after the demise of “Pimp My Ride,” Xzibit’s disembodied head still makes an occasional appearance in our Instagram feeds.
The origins and exits of other meme fads are harder to explain. For instance, who first employed Philosoraptor or Bad Luck Brian? In the latter case, we know Brian is actually named Kyle, and a friend’s Reddit post was responsible for setting his extended ordeal in motion. Scumbag Steve (whose actual name is Blake Boston), has his mother to blame. She took the photo and bought him his infamous hat. Unfortunately for both meme men, their respective 15 minutes of fame lasted more than a year.
Remember when Tinder was the most scandalous thing that ever happened to online dating? Now it’s just one in an ever-expanding arsenal of apps users employ to get dates and … meet people. Despite recent research suggesting the app makes its users sadder, the internet’s infatuation with Tinder lasted nearly four years. In a way, the eventual decline in searches for the app is a compliment: It’s now a household name, not a passing curiosity.
All of the other top app fads studied were games, though some Pokémon GO enthusiasts will probably tell you it’s more like a lifestyle. While these fads may revolve around fun, the cash they bring in is serious business. Angry Birds raked in more than $200 million for its makers last year, and Activision paid $5.9 billion for the company that gave the world Candy Crush in 2015. Fads can make big bucks for well-established brands, too. While it’s known for its gaming console, Nintendo’s stock price soared after the reception of Pokemon Go in 2016.
2017 marked the 30th anniversary of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” the Rick Astley record resuscitated from obscurity by internet trolls. For a while, it looked like the internet was never going to give it up either, with significant search volumes for “rickrolling” lasting for more than a year. The trend translated to some notable incidents, including rock band the Foo Fighters “rickrolling” a hate group on two separate occasions.
Music seems like a fruitful avenue for viral videos, with “Gangnam Style” and “Harlem Shake” earning massive followings as well. The latter is one of many trends that permitted users around the world to participate with their own renditions, including “Running Man” and “Mannequin” challenges. Adopting a charitable spin on these trends, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” raised more than $115 million for ALS research, with more than 17 million participants worldwide.
Get Ahead of the Trend
Whether they’re silly or just plain strange, fads have a certain unifying power. Even if you don’t buy in yourself, something is compelling about a trend that captures the attention of millions. However brief they may be, these fads can spark connections and conversations, which is arguably the internet’s most idealistic quality. So the next time you see a fad taking hold before your eyes, wait a moment before dismissing it. You just might be witnessing millions of people discovering a mutual interest, if only for an instant.
From the latest fad to long-loved favourites, Yellow Octopus has your toy, gift, and gag needs covered. Whether a holiday is coming up or you know someone in need of a good pranking, our collection of gadgets and other fun goods can’t be beaten. We also offer tons of speedy shipping options, so you’ll be sure to get your order quickly.
We studied international Google Trends data for each of the fads included in our analysis. To determine how long a given fad’s popularity lasted, we tracked the number of months each fad’s search volume remained above level 25 on Google’s proprietary scale, which ranges from 0 to 100. Data may be subject to change, dependent upon any alterations to Google’s data or algorithms.
Fair Use Statement
You’re welcome to share this project and its images for noncommercial use. If you do so, we simply ask that you credit Yellow Octopus appropriately by linking to this page. We’ve got to make you understand: Never gonna give you up; never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you …