“Wherever I see people doing something the way it’s always been done, the way it’s ‘supposed’ to be done, following the same old trends, well, that’s just a big red flag to me to go look somewhere else.” Mark Cuban
We all know there are entire galaxies beyond our own, possibly with complete civilizations. Intelligent life forms could be eyeing us right now, calculating our birth rates, mortality rates and why we eat spinach. Eventually some martian sociologist will boil it down, telling interesting onlookers that we stare at luminescent screens and walk into manholes for one odd but compelling reason: We’re following trends.
In the animal kingdom, herding is the result of pheromones, something perfume makers have tried unsuccessfully to isolate for years. Pheromones are tricky, whereas trends are simple. Kylie Jenner can’t understand where her “power to set trends” comes from, other than it probably started with her sister, Kim, lying naked in a video, saying, “This better not get out.”
You don’t have to set trends to appreciate them. In fact, most of us would rather follow trends than risk starting new ones. Risk is a big part of trend-setting. One wrong move and you’re not a Kardashian anymore. The trick is not thinking, which is a big part of the Kardashian family fortune.
There are marketing groups set up specifically to follow trends. A commercial did a spoof on this, where a woman is hired to tell a man when his “man bun” is passé. We can laugh at the “shortness” of trends, but not at the thoughtlessness necessary to make them popular. We could say it represents the laziness of human nature. Give us a screen and opposable thumbs and we’ll follow like ants to a dead armadillo.
From a marketing perspective, it’s good that we don’t think. When you ask your daughter why she’s wearing her dress so short, you want her to say, “It’s what all the girls are wearing.” What you don’t want is her showing up in a cowl, complaining about a woman’s place in the hierarchal church.
“We’re not here to make waves,” someone once said, “but to surf what’s there,” an interesting analogy and certainly not without merit. Judging from the success of some people, it obviously works. “I don’t set trends,” Dick Clark once admitted. “I just find out what they are and exploit them.”
American Bandstand ran for 37 years, with Dick hosting from 1956 to its final season. Even advanced life forms on other planets would find that laudable.
So why, if it’s so easy, do some people feel the need to set new trends? Why did Frank Capra, director of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Meet John Doe” tell young filmmakers, “Never follow trends, set them.”
And why would Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures “look somewhere else,” when he sees the red flags? Surely, as a regular on Shark Tank, possibly a direct competitor with The Kardashians, he sees money being made the old-fashioned way, meaning find something and exploit it like Dick Clark.
Mark sees a different role for trends these days, what he calls “re-application.” As he told Entrepreneur, “Successful people don’t ask what consumers want. They envision a complete re-application. Then they decide what to do with what they just recreated.”
It’s an interesting premise. Mark’s obviously thinking beyond the boundaries of what we expect — or what we think we expect. The truth is, most of us don’t really process. We figure we’re on safe ground following whatever we’re told is the cat’s meow.
Dick Clark made a lot of money telling us what was the cat’s meow. If Dicky said it was good, he ought to know, right? Only, trend followers — even at the top of the heap — don’t always have the greatest judgment.
Take, for example, what ranked as the top hits of 1966. A dinky little song called “Winchester Cathedral” by The Vaudeville Band ranked at #4, while one of the greatest seminal Motown songs “What Becomes of a Broken-Hearted” by Jimmy Ruffin was way down at #38.
Obviously, you can’t pick every trend — nor is every trend worth picking. If it’s your business to choose what’s “hot and what’s not,” it might be wise to do a little “re-application” of your own. Mark Cuban’s absolutely right. For every trend, there’s probably something better. The only way to know for sure is to try something different, something that expands the trend.
If you’re saying that’s not the job of advertising or marketing, you’re mistaken. We don’t necessarily set trends, but we do influence them. And let’s be clear what makes advertising work in the first place. It isn’t a trend, it’s the notion that anything can be a trend. As David Ogilvy once said, “We’re not here to change peoples’ minds. We’re here to change peoples’ beliefs.”
In other words, trends may be the result of lazy thinking, but changing them takes a lot of work. Whether you’re ready for that work is really what separates trend followers from trendsetters. You have to choose what you want to be: Mark Cuban or Dick Clark or The Vaudeville Band.
If you’re saying, “What about The Kardashians?” let’s think back to those intelligent life forms out in another galaxy. Imagine the sociologist trying to explain Kim and Kylie to the others. “Okay,” he’s saying, “the way I figure it, humans like big butts. If we’re going down there, we’d better have big butts.”
“But we don’t even have butts,” another says.
“We’ll put our brains back there.”
“That’s what they do.”
“Kim must be highly intelligent.”
Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist, blogger and freelance copywriter. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details. Coming soon (hopefully), a collection of short stories called “Would You Mind Not Talking to Me?”