How to survive the 5-minute internet fads

We live in an online world made by Tasty.

As of 2015, Tasty’s close-up videos with hands rushing through recipes for treats like cheese-filled mashed potatoes or sliders appeared to be all over Facebook in four ways.

Tasty, part of the online media company BuzzFeed, called these “hands and pans” videos, and – I’m not exaggerating – they helped shape the Internet as we know it.

Today, Tasty’s DNA is in the TikTok food manias for baked feta pasta or pizza panini. People who post videos on social media of hands-on tasks like household cleaning and organizing owe Tasty. So did the social media craze of 2020, where knives cut into cake that looked like a Crocs shoe or a pickle. And in general, Tasty and other food brands from the 2010s helped introduce smartphone videos as a dominant way we communicate through screens.

Tasty’s influence may be everywhere online, but that doesn’t mean things are going smoothly for Tasty itself. The food entertainment website is now overhauling itself to lean into our 2022 habits, including for constant new food novelties and a zeal to make our own recipes and not just follow the advice of cooking professionals.

Tasty’s transformation will be a test of creating a lasting identity in the digital age, when fads burn brightly for five minutes and everything new – including practically disembodied hands in videos – is copied by the internet’s awesome Xerox machine.

Allen Adamson, co-founder of brand and marketing consultancy Metaforce, told me that the speed of change has made it harder for products and companies to live long lives.

“The amount of time between having a unique product offering and a competitive option has always been short in technology. Now everything is short,” he said. “It’s the end of the competitive advantage.”

A cool outfit that pops up on Instagram can quickly be mass-produced in Chinese factories and sold online in huge quantities. Toys like the fidget spinner, Pop It! or squishable stuffed animals seem to one day be in every kid’s hands, and then they’re going to poop. Hit shows on Netflix may only stay popular for a week or two. And the once-fresh look and feel of Tasty videos is no longer new.

There were fads long before the internet. But there’s so much of everything now that it’s hard for anything to hold our attention for long. When our tastes are as hard to define as Jell-O, companies must continue to reinvent themselves while maintaining a consistent identity. It is not easy.

Hannah Bricker, BuzzFeed’s general manager who is responsible for the Tasty brand, told me Tasty was comfortable with the rapid change in our interests and habits. “Iteration is part of our DNA,” Bricker said. “It’s been our strategy from the start.”

Recently, Tasty has overhauled its website, app and business strategy to go where our hyperactive tastes are headed, with the flexibility to change course when we inevitably head in a different direction.

For example, in its app, Tasty adds features to let people swap their own recipes, and includes cooking challenges for people to virtually prepare meals together. Bricker said that during the pandemic, people seemed to want more face-to-face interactions and input rather than just taking prescriptions.

With so many online food videos on TikTok, Tasty also works with amateur video makers. For example, in an appointment with the delivery app Instacart, dozens of TikTok makers can post Tasty recipes within the TikTok app, and viewers have the option to purchase the ingredients from the Instacart app. Tasty has a similar arrangement with Walmart.

Bricker described Tasty’s strategy not as chasing every online food craze or the vagaries of popular apps, but as embracing those within its core identity around having fun with food. “Food is universal and personal, and it’s permanent,” she said.

The challenge for Tasty and many other brands is to stay relevant and fresh at the speed of internet time when the only thing that is certain is change.

Read more: Check out my colleague Katie Robertson’s article on the dozens of BuzzFeed employees who say the company illegally prevented them from trading their shares in the company at a higher price.

Mammoth spending to protect computer chip stocks: Industries and governments are concerned about the large number of essential computer chips being made in China’s backyard. My colleagues Don Clark and Adam Satariano report that Intel planned to spend at least $19 billion on new chip factories in Germany as part of a global effort to diversify electronic brain production into everything from smartphones to fighter jets.

Writing software code without coders: As part of a New York Times series on people using artificial intelligence to tackle everyday problems, Craig S. Smith looks at efforts to simplify software code writing to the point where anyone can do it.

The legal war over McDonald’s ice cream machines. Yes really. In 2021, Wired published the ultimate backstory of a tech gadget that helped restaurant owners prevent malfunctions of McDonald’s ice cream machines. The restaurant chain said the technology posed a security risk. The small company behind the device, Kytch, is now suing McDonald’s, accusing the chain of copying the technology and tarnishing Kytch’s reputation.

Here are some notable recent performances of the Ukrainian national anthem. It has been played and sung in concert halls and basketball arenas and on streets in Ukraine and around the world to show solidarity with the citizens of the country. I recommend this performance of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

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