Featured Documentary

Merchants of Cool | PBS Frontline | Season 19 Episode 5 2001 - 54 min.

Director: Barak Goodman
Synopsis:

They spend their days sifting through reams of market research data. They conduct endless surveys and focus groups. They comb the streets, the schools, and the malls, hot on the trail of the "next big thing" that will snare the attention of their prey--a market segment worth an estimated $150 billion a year.

They are the merchants of cool: creators and sellers of popular culture who have made teenagers the hottest consumer demographic in America. But are they simply reflecting teen desires or have they begun to manufacture those desires in a bid to secure this lucrative market? And have they gone too far in their attempts to reach the hearts--and wallets--of America's youth?

This program talks with top marketers, media executives and cultural/media critics, and explores the symbiotic relationship between the media and today's teens, as each looks to the other for their identity. As examples it showcases MTV, Dawson's Creek, Limp Biscuit, Insane Clown Posse, Cruel Intentions, Tom Green and Britney Speers.

Teenagers are the hottest consumer demographic in America. At 33 million strong, they comprise the largest generation of teens America has ever seen--larger, even, than the much-ballyhooed Baby Boom generation. Last year, America's teens spent $100 billion, while influencing their parents' spending to the tune of another $50 billion.

But marketing to teens isn't as easy as it sounds. Marketers have to find a way to seem real: true to the lives and attitudes of teenagers; in short, to become cool themselves. To that end, they search out the next cool thing and have adopted an almost anthropological approach to studying teens and analyzing their every move as if they were animals in the wild.

And as more and more teens look to the media to define what they should think and how they should behave, even some cool hunters are no longer sure that their work isn't having a negative impact. "Kids' culture and media culture are now one and the same, and it becomes impossible to tell which came first--the anger or the marketing of the anger."