Marketing Coolness

July 14, 2007

I watched Frontline’s “The Merchants of Cool” this week and in some ways it was chilling. It was about the lengths to which corporate America goes to market to the huge group that is the American teenager. The amount of money that group has to spend is staggering, and the amount it talks others (read “parents”) into spending is likewise staggering.

So these companies have to figure out what is going to be cool next and how to market it. Enter the mook and the midriff. The mook is male, and feel free to think of some of the gross and humiliating things you see young males do in movies these days — those are mooks. The guy diving into the sewer for fun or shoving beans up his nose or — like Eric Cartman, making his friends eat their own dead parents unbeknownst to them — those are mooks. Midriffs — well, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton (people South Park refers to as stupid spoiled whores) personify this.

It was fascinating, to say the least.

But the question that is most compelling to me and one which it can’t yet answer is “what kind of consumers are these kids going to be 20 years from now?” Will they still be spoiled and rushing off to buy every “latest new thing” whether they need it or not? Will they still be susceptible to marketing, or will thought have intruded into the process? Will they be the brainwashed automatons the corporations would like them to be, or will they be responsible citizens of Earth?

You ever notice how sometimes several things you are reading or watching seem to coalesce? I’m also reading a book called “The High Price of Materialism” by Tim Kasser. Among his findings: people who focus heavily on materialism are less happy, less fulfilled, and more likely to participate in anti-social or unhealthy behaviors. Not surprising, because most of us have heard ideas to that effect. But Kasser actually did studies to find out if that widely-held impression was just that, or if it had validity. It’s valid.

So another compelling question is this: Are we as a society, with the help of corporate America, deliberately raising a generation of people who will be unhappier, more likely to be anti-social or engage in unhealthy behaviors, and unable to fight their way out of it because the only tool they’ve been given for coping is to acquire more and more of what they don’t really need?

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