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When I was in college, I remember watching “Merchants of Cool,” a PBS Frontline documentary chronicling the strategies marketers use to appeal to the elusive teenage demographic.
The documentary had a lasting impression on me. In it, Douglas Rushkoff explores the fascinating attempts by marketers to learn what is cool from teen trendsetters in order to replicate it and sell it back to them through brands like Nike.
In fact, I use snippets of Merchants of Cool in a lecture in my PR class to explore audience research, influence and opinion leaders (as well as to talk about authenticity and co-optation).
Merchants of Cool aired in 2001. To be honest, it is humorous to go back and watch it now, seeing as in 2001 I was in the general age range of the very people the video was profiling. In my defense, I did not like all of the music and fashion shown in the video – truth be told, I was never into Limp Bizkit. 🙂
How much things changed in a little over a decade. As you can imagine, when I was in college there was no social media and there certainly were no smart phones. Time spent on the Internet among young people was a fraction of what it is today.
What’s fascinating, is to compare that film to the February 2014 Frontline documentary “Generation Like.” This documentary, also by Rushkoff, explores teen culture today and its relationship with the world of marketing and promotion. This documentary is all about the relationship teens have with social media, and thus marketers have with teens via social media.
Rushkoff explores how little teens often know about how businesses are using social media to build relationships with them. From TV celebrities to would-be and established YouTube stars on through to marketing the Hunger Games movies, the documentary offers a fascinating look at what drives young people to use social media – both from the perspective of self-empowerment to building relationships with brands and celebs.
I seldom use class time to show clips longer than 5 or 10 minutes. But I found Generation Like to offer such a fascinating look at many sides of social media, culture, and business, that I showed Generation Like in my Social Media class last semester and did so again this semester. Students last semester thought the documentary offered such a great look into several concepts we covered in class, they suggested I show it earlier in the semester this year as a sort of primer. So I did. 🙂
The documentary offers an opportunity for a great discussion for any social media class. We had a wonderful debate on the implications of social media for society after watching it. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it. While it is a little over a year old, it is still very applicable.