Fads (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
The Hula Hoop, Pet Rock, and Cabbage Patch Kid were all crazes known as fads. These products, like most fads, entered the market quickly, created a consumer obsession, sold millions of units in a short amount of time, and declined just as rapidly. Their special product life cycle of quick, dramatic sales and a sharp, drastic decline differs from the five stage product life cycle concept
of product development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. Fads have a limited following and tend to die quickly because they do not satisfy a strong consumer need.
THE PRODUCT LIFE CYCLE
The course that a product's sales and profits take over its lifetime is the product life cycle (PLC). Marketers know that all products will have some type of life cycle, but the shape and length is not known in advance. In the first stage of the cycle, product development, an idea for a product is formulated and development of the product begins. During this stage sales are zero, consumer research begins, and promotion consists of public relations.
The next stage, introduction, is characterized by a period of slow sales growth, but no profits are made because of the high initial investment and promotional costs. The company begins to inform consumers about the product through advertising, and distribution of the product is selective.
The third stage of the PLC, growth, is a time of rapid market acceptance and increasing profits. Product distribution becomes more widespread, and advertising shifts from being informative to being persuasive. Realizing the opportunity for profit, competitors will enter the market, creating market expansion. Promotional spending remains the same or increases slightly. Prices may be lowered during the growth stage to attract new customers.
The fourth stage of the PLC, maturity, is a period of slow sales growth and leveling-off or declining profits. Most potential buyers have been reached, so no new customers are buying the product. This stage presents the greatest challenges to marketers. To prevent entering the decline stage, research and development departments may make product modifications to meet the changing needs of consumers, distribution becomes selective again, and advertising becomes competitive because of the number of competitors who have entered the market.
Sales slow and profits drop in the decline stage, usually because of advances in technology, a shift in consumer taste, or increased competition. Distribution becomes exclusive, and sales promotions are developed. Products in the decline stage should have their sales, market share, costs, and profit trends regularly reviewed so that managers can decide whether to maintain the product, harvest the product (reduce various costs associated with the product), or drop the product from the product line. Now let's examine and discuss the product life cycle of fads.
THE PRODUCT LIFE CYCLE OF FADS
The Hula Hoop has been called the "greatest fad of them all." Developed in 1957 by Wham-O creators Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, it was modeled after an Australian toy. A prototype was developed and tested on U.S. playgrounds and was found to have the longest "play value." After only four months on the market, 25 million Hula Hoops had been sold. In less than a year, sales had almost completely stopped and competition was increasing, so Wham-O entered foreign markets and its success continued. Collectively, toy manufacturers made $45 million off the Hula Hoop.
The life cycle of the Hula Hoop was not typical of most products. A prototype was developed and tested during the product development stage, but the Hula Hoop bypassed the introduction stage and, with rapid sales, the toy quickly entered the growth stage. Again, the Hula Hoop skipped the maturity stage and went directly into the decline stage, with sales coming to an almost immediate halt. Other fads' life cycles have followed this model.
Gary Dahl created the Pet Rock in the 1970s, complaining that dogs, cats, and other pets were too messy, misbehaved, and expensive. Instead, Dahl had a pet rock that was easy to care for and cheap; it also had a great personality. Dahl wrote the Pet Rock Training Manual and created the Pet Rock out of a Rosarita Beach Stone that cost him a penny. In October 1975, Dahl packaged the Pet Rock in a gift box shaped like a pet carrying case, included the training manual, and sold it for $3.95. Within a few months, Dahl had sold a million rocks and became an instant millionaire. By the next February, sales had stopped.
Unlike the Hula Hoop, the Pet Rock was not tested during the product development stage. Dahl had the idea for the product and quickly produced it with no market testing. Similar to the Hula Hoop, the Pet Rock caught on quickly with consumers, reached its life-cycle peak at the growth stage, and dipped down into the decline stage in a very short period of time.
Artist Xaiver Roberts created Cabbage Patch Kids, originally called "Little People," in 1977. The cloth doll was "delivered" at BabyLand General Hospital, a former medical clinic in Cleveland, Georgia, where Roberts had his employees dress in white nurses' and doctors' uniforms. Sales of the dolls were termed "adoptions," and each doll came with a birth certificate and adoption papers. Roberts sold 250,000 dolls at prices ranging from $125 to $1000. National Cabbage Patch mania struck when Roberts signed a contract with Coleco in 1982, and $25 models started selling all over the United States. Approximately2.5 million Cabbage Patch Kids were sold in the first year on the market. But, like the fads before it, the Cabbage Patch Kid had lost its dominating position in the market by 1985.
The Cabbage Patch Kid had a standard product development stage, but its introduction stage was short. Shortly after hitting the toy store shelves, sales skyrocketed and the product entered the growth stage with full force. It entered the maturity stage when sales starting leveling off and the supply was greater than the demand. In an effort to prevent the product from entering the decline stage, marketers at Coleco experimented with product extensionsut to no avail. Eventually, profits began to drop and the Cabbage Patch Kid fell into the decline stage. Figure 1 shows the product life cycle of fads.
Fads are generally mysterious both to their creators and to the public. Although their products were unique, Wham-O, Dahl, and Roberts had no idea they would experience such rapid success. Past fads have included the Rubik Cube, Beanie Babies, and Furbee. Most fads never really completely die, but they never regain their initial popularity. To understand consumer obsessions with fads, marketers must understand consumer buying behavior.
CONSUMER BUYING BEHAVIOR
There are four types of buying behavior: complex buying behavior, dissonance-reducing buying behavior, habitual buying behavior, and variety-seeking buying behavior. Complex buying behavior occurs when the consumer is purchasing something expensive or risky, such as a personal computer. The consumer must learn about the product line, is highly involved in the buying process, and perceives significant differences among brands. Marketers must differentiate their products' features from other brands. Dissonance-reducing
buying behavior occurs when an expensive or risky purchase is being made, but the consumer perceives no difference in brands. They may purchase the brand that offers the best price or that is the most convenient to buy. Habitual buying behavior involves low consumer involvement and little concern for brand differences. Variety-seeking buying behavior is characterized by low consumer involvement but significant differences in brands. Consumers displaying this type of buying behavior often switch brands to experience variety rather than because of dissatisfaction.
Fad purchasers display variety-seeking buying behavior. Buyers of Beanie Babies are loyal to the Ty brand; they will not buy competing brands. Many consumers who buy Beanie Babies switch to the next craze when it hits the shelves. PokeMon became the latest fad in 2000, and the variety-seekers shifted again to this latest trend. Until consumer demands and obsessions cease to exist, fads are here to stay.
Armstrong, Gary and Kotler, Philip. (1999). Principles of Marketing. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Baig, Edward C. (1983). "The Billion-Dollar Cabbage Patch in Cleveland, Georgia." Fortune December 26: 108.
Friedrich, Otto. (1983). "The Strange Cabbage Patch Craze; Troubled Coleco is Cashing in Big On the Year's Hottest Toy." Time December 12: 122.
Rakstis, Ted J. (1985). "Cabbage Patch Takes Sudden Sales Plunge." Playthings June: 83.