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Kool-Aid point

The Kool-Aid point is a threshold of fame or success that, when reached, will cause a negative backlash simply because the individual in question is famous or successful. The phenomenon can also be observed in response to brands and organizations. 

In reference to individual targets, the backlash is typically motivated by insecurity, immaturity and envy rather than involving any substantive criticism of the target. Given the way these traits vary in severity from one person to another, the Kool-Aid point can be reached in response to different levels of fame accordingly.

Online, especially on social media, reaching the Kool-Aid point tends to result in troll attacks. The writer Kathy Sierra noticed when she became well-known enough to elicit the effect and coined the term Kool-Aid point to refer to it. Her first harasser objected to the attention she was getting because, in his opinion, her work did not warrant it.

Sierra explained in a blog post: “the most vocal trolling and ‘hate’ for a brand kicks in HARD once a critical mass of brand fans/users are thought to have ‘drunk the Kool-Aid.’ In other words, the hate wasn’t so much about the product/brand but that other people were falling for it.”

The word “Kool-Aid,” in this context, is a reference to the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, in which 913 of cult leader Jim Jones’ 1,100 followers willingly ingested a poisoned soft drink (not, as it turns out, Kool-Aid but a similar beverage called Flavor-Aid) at his urging. The phrase “drank the Kool-Aid” is commonly used to describe those who have dedicated themselves to something without applying any degree of critical thinking.

This was last updated in October 2018

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