Silly Bandz and The Making of a Fad

f you don’t have kids – or more specifically, you don’t have kids between the ages of 5 and 11 – you’re probably completely unaware of Silly Bandz. But take it from me, Silly Bandz are a big deal. And rest assured, someone’s making millions from them.

 

Silly Bandz are… well… kind of silly. Not in a funny way, but more in an inconsequential way. They are essentially colored rubber bands that are molded into shapes (shapes of animals, automobiles, planes, etc) and are just big enough to fit around a kid’s wrist. And as I write this, I’m quite certain that millions of kids have them around their wrists at this precise moment.

If you don’t have kids – or more specifically, you don’t have kids between the ages of 5 and 11 – you’re probably completely unaware of Silly Bandz. But take it from me, Silly Bandz are a big deal. And rest assured, someone’s making millions from them.

 

Silly Bandz are… well… kind of silly. Not in a funny way, but more in an inconsequential way. They are essentially colored rubber bands that are molded into shapes (shapes of animals, automobiles, planes, etc) and are just big enough to fit around a kid’s wrist. And as I write this, I’m quite certain that millions of kids have them around their wrists at this precise moment.

 

Silly Bandz only came into my personal consciousness last month when my nephews in Texas sent my 6 year-old son a 12 pack of them. Somehow, through masterful trades with fellow school kids on the bus, my son has turned 12 Silly Bandz into 18 (“I traded one really cool one for two medium ones”). Apparently, the same negotiating tactics my older son uses at dessert time are transferable to Silly Bandz bartering.

 

Sillly Bandz are an undeniable craze – of the variety that is difficult to explain rationally. They are colored, molded rubber bands. Nothing more. No intrinsic value. No function. No purpose. Yet every kid has them (at least the cool ones!). In fact, they’ve become so wide-spread and such a distraction that many elementary schools have taken to banning them.

 

So how do these crazes gain traction? How do they hit a tipping point? Is it an elaborate plan or an accident?

 

From what I can dig up, the rise of Silly Bandz seems to be more accident than master plan. While conventional wisdom would have you thinking that fads and crazes are hatched in places like LA and New York, this particular craze caught fire in Birmingham, Alabama, which is where Silly Bandz first started gaining traction. From there, they spread up the East Coast. Today, they are sold in at least 8,000 stores around the country, as well as online.

 

Another interesting point on Silly Bandz which might point more to master plan and less to accident: go to their web site, and this is what they’ll tell say should do with these products:

  • Wear them
  • Trade them
  • Collect them

And this is exactly what kids do.

 

They wear them – scores of them, sometimes hundreds of them – up their little arms. Having more of them is like some kind of tribal expression of superiority. Clearly the kid with 109 Silly Bandz is 4.73 times cooler than the kid with 23 Silly Bandz.

 

They trade them, which makes them like money. While they have no real value, they have enormous perceived value.

 

And kids collect them. And what’s more, some shapes are much harder to come by than others. In other words, they create scarcity. Marketing nirvana! So my kid can go on the bus, and he can trade one of his rare snake-shaped Silly Bandz for three of the easy-to-be-had car-shaped Silly Bandz. And then, in what must give Silly Bandz executives warm tingles, the kid my kid traded with begs his mom to go buy 12 more Silly Bandz. Freakin’ Genius!

 

Interestingly enough, the importer of Silly Bandz happens to be the importer of the LiveStrong bracelets – which turned into a somewhat analogous craze among adults four or five years back. Creating two fads – one for little kids and one for Yuppies – out of glorified rubber bands is kind of impressive when you stop and consider it.

 

Any more insight on how fads and crazes get started and hit a tipping point? Better yet, any predictions on what the next fad will be? I’d love to know about it before my kids!

 

Update: Turn out my kid no longer has has 18 Silly Bandz. He now has 100-plus! Thank God school is out; maybe this craze will plateau, because it's getting out of hand!

 

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