In the post “Crazes happen because people herd”, I mentioned that fundamentally all crazes are alike in that they compel a group of people to behave a certain way for a certain period of time. Crazes have both a sense of momentum and of conclusion. Think about Yo-Yos as they completely take over every recess and lunch time in the school yard, before being quickly and unceremoniously replaced by the next big thing, Same with the Macarena – who can believe it swept the dance floors worldwide before disappearing to the shame file?
But there are also key differences between crazes.
In some crazes, there is a sense that it has come from nowhere and swept everyone along in its path. It feels like wherever you turn people are involved. Then, the craze recedes and is replaced by something else. This is the Yo-Yo type of craze that I refer to as a tsunami or “giant wave”. Giant wave crazes have a sense of singular direction (to the shore ie crashing onto the target market), power (you are decidedly either in or out of the craze) and impermanence (just like the tide, the craze will recede). I also lump longer term crazes (trends) like polished floorboards in this category. For a number of years now, those in the market to renovate a house/buy a house/sell a house would have seen how floorboards have had the edge over carpet. Ditto for stainless steel appliances over whitegoods.
In other crazes, there is a sense that the market itself has created the momentum with one group stimulating the craze across another. Instead of a singular direction, these crazes move laterally across a market, more like dominoes, until their momentum finally tapers to nothing. These crazes I refer to as “Mexican waves” because they are contagious and rely on group perpetuation. An example of this craze would be iPhones where influential early adopters generate the first wave of craze before other segments make the purchase. I would also classify Zumba the new fitness craze as a Mexican wave because it started in one gym and has gradually spread to your local fitness center.
Now importantly, whilst you are in the midst of a craze you are probably not aware of it being either a Mexican Wave or Giant Wave style craze because to you and your influential peers, it probably seems all consuming. When I was learning to Yo-Yo, it seemed my whole world (ie school population) was part of the contagious magic.
So the distinction between Tsunami and Mexican Wave crazes is probably not important for those involved, but I believe it can be important to marketers. Why? Because knowing how to stimulate a mass audience to meet your objectives is central to what we do. And that’s the subject of the third article in this series which focuses on the role of marketing in starting and riding crazes.