Merchants of Cool


Companies have to define their target audience when marketing a product and a lot of the time, products they produce are for teenagers. Right now, we have the largest generation of teenagers the world has ever seen and each year teenagers spend £100 BILLION on themselves and their parents spend £50 BILLION that is a lot of money being spent! Teenagers are often given money from their parents when they have done something wrong as an apology and this ‘guilt money’ is exactly what these corporate businesses are after!

The people running these companies are often middle-aged though and have a difficult time understanding the kind of products these kids are after. To help them recognise what young people want, how they feel and think. Businesses pay groups of teenagers a lot of money to take part in focus groups in which they discuss ‘what is hot right now‘, the brands they like and the brands they don’t. They are also asked about the music they are listening to right now and the relationships with their parents, peers and partners. If a corporate  company has this information they think they can win over young people’s trust and seduce them into buying their products. There are also professional cool-hunters. Imagine having that as your job title, just imagine Occupation: Cool Hunter!! These ‘cool hunters’ understand the influence popular teenagers have over their peers and they look for trend setters. These hunters of cool are not scientists, they are culture spies and they use their instincts to find forward thinking young people, who are often leaders within their social circles. When they find a ‘trendsetter’ they will take a picture of what is ‘cool’ about them and upload their images online for companies to be inspired by.  The only problem is once they discover what is cool, companies will bring the products into the mainstream. Once it has become commercial the product is no longer attractive to the leaders of the pack they stole the idea from the first place! Forcing them to move on and to discover the next underground quirks that are considered ‘cool’.  This process is never ending…

I think however that ‘cool-hunter’ companies may be a dying breed, with the birth of sites such as Tumblr teens are able to ‘cool hunt’ for themselves. The reblog and like buttons allow teenagers to compile their own portfolio of inspiring ‘cool’ images to model themselves on. Rather than paying cool-hunting groups such as LookLook thousands of pounds a year, why don’t they just have an employee create a tumblr account for themselves and find out what we really like and think is cool!!

Using results of market research MTV producers created the Mook a crude, loud and obnoxious character designed specifically to appeal to a male teenage audience. The Mook has been replicated time and time again in TV shows, adverts and films. Teenage boys seem to LOVE the Mook despite the fact the media is basically glorifying guys who act like self-centred morons. The original ‘Mook’ was American radio personality and tv host Howard Stern.

The media also created a second caricature however this time it was tailor-made to appeal to the girls. In his ‘Merchants of Cool’ documentary Douglas Rustorf refers to this character as the ‘Midriff’. He also goes onto explain that this persona bears as little resemblance to reality as the ‘Mook’. The Midriff is prematurely adult and sexual being as well as being self-obsessed and vain. It is about being proud of being a sexual object.  The archetype is without doubt Britney Spears. Her message appeared to be ‘flaunt your sexuality.’ and her most loyal fans are surprisingly NOT young teenager boys but young girls.

By the age of 18, it is estimated, that we are exposed to around 10 million discreet advertisements. These advertisements come from 5 main distributers, News Corp (run by Mr Murdoch), Disney, Universal, Time Warner and Viacom (who own MTV).


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