In FRONTLINE's journey through the complex world of buying and selling cool,
here are people, companies and groups who were part of this landscape. (Note: In chronological order as they appear in the program.)
Understanding how to sell to teens has become a highly competitive industry all
its own. If companies can get in on a trend or
subculture while it is still hidden, they can be the first to bring it to
market. So cool hunters"--those who can track down the latest cool trends in
teen life--can make a lot of money marketing their expertise to companies
marketing to teens. Information on what is "cool" can be used to create
products that will reflect back exactly what the kids will want.
Among the best in the field at "cool hunting" are
Gordon and her firm Look-Look. For a large fee, Look-Look customers get real-time interactive focus group
testing with real kids, market demographic studies, and the promise of knowing
about teen trends faster than anyone else. Look-Look claims over 10,000+
Internet linked, ahead-of-the-curve, youth correspondents who send digital
photos, and comment via email on what, and who, is cool in their lives.
In the early 1990s, Sprite was an also-ran brand in the competitive
soft-drink category. But after teen focus groups to figure out what was
wrong, Sprite launched a teen-targeted ad campaign which poked fun at
marketing itself. For awhile, it worked. But then focus groups showed kids
were getting wise to Sprite's anti-marketing campaign.
So Sprite cloaked themselves in genuine cool--hip-hop--and it became Sprite's
vehicle to get to teens and talk to them in a credible way. Sprite did it by
developing relationships with artists, paying to sponsor hip-hop concerts and
MTV events, and bringing money into MTV, and Sprite into the very heart of
teen culture. In a way, they almost weren't even selling the product. They
were selling the fact that they understood the culture. Sprite became an icon
of sorts--it's not just associated with hip hop. It's a part of it. As much
as baggy jeans and sneakers.
[A free password is required to enter sprite.com but once inside Sprite
drinkers can earn online cash to spend on CDs or at online stores.]
This New York marketing firm's specialty is under-the- radar marketing. For
example: Cornerstone hires kids to log into chat rooms and pose as just
another fan of one of their clients. Or, they recruit incoming freshmen to
throw parties, where they subtly pass out promotional material to their
Cornerstone helped Sprite tap a network of radio DJs and hip-hop artists to
smuggle their message into the world of kids. And it worked. Sprite is the
fastest-growing soft drink in the world.. Cornerstone's client list also
includes Nike, Fox Interactive, and Sega.
Viacom is one of the five media giants responsible for selling
nearly all of youth culture. They're the true merchants of cool:.
Viacom owns media outlets CBS, MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Black Entertainment
Television (BET), United Paramount Network (UPN), Nickelodeon, Paramount film
studios, Blockbuster video stores, and Simon & Schuster book publishing.
It also owns most of the Infinity network of radio stations, and dozens of
By owning this network of media divisions, a
conglomerate like Viacom can relentlessly cross-promote and sell its products.
Take, for example, Howard Stern. Viacom leverages him across their properties. He is
syndicated on 50 of Viacom's Infinity radio stations. His weekly TV show is
broadcast on Viacom's CBS. His number one best-selling autobiography was
published by Viacom's Simon and Shuster, then released as a major motion
picture by Viacom's Paramount Pictures-- grossing $40 million domestically and
millions more on videos sold at Viacom's Blockbuster video.
Viacom's web site is a portal to all its companies. Choose one and see what
it offers the Viacom powerhouse.
Owned by Viacom, MTV is a youth marketing empire. Launched 20 years ago, the
cable channel employs a simple but brilliantly commercial concept--use
record companies' promotional music videos as creative programming. However, in the late
1990s, MTV's ratings began to slide. So it embarked on a major
research campaign to understand its teen audience better. The hallmark of the
campaign was the "ethnography study" a way to get really close to teens
lives. And it paid off.
Today, the new MTV is all about learning what kids really want, then
delivering it to them. Their signature show, "Total Request Live," plays
music videos by popular demand. And every afternoon, mobs of kids crowd into
Times Square to gaze up at the windows of the "TRL" studio, to see whichever
mega band might be making a guest appearance. But while MTV executive Dave
Sirulnick emphasizes TRL's democratic approach and how they take their
cues from their teen audience, some media and music critics, such as The
New York Times' Ann Powers, disagree.
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