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.
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.
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.