Alissa Quart: From Gen X to Z: Teens and the New Cool


February 18, 2014

Alissa Quart is a journalist and author of several books on youth culture. Quart spoke to FRONTLINE about the evolution of cool from Gen Xers to the digital-natives, Gen Y and Gen Z. Today, “Coolness is about giving everything,” she explained. “Instead of turning your back to the audience or wearing sunglasses at night, you’re taking off those sunglasses and you’re smiling into the camera.” This is the edited transcript of that interview, conducted on June 21, 2013.

Why do people even care about buying and selling [to] teenagers? Teenagers have no money.

For starters, it’s not entirely true, because with the fragmentation of traditional family structures, middle-class parents in particular, at least when I did my research for Branded, were giving their kids money in order to assuage guilt at times. So children did have a lot of disposable income.

Also, the fact is that most of the money they have is just discretionary. It’s not going to be going into buying a house or all the things that grownups have to worry about. So advertisers and companies go after teenagers, because if it’s frivolous stuff, kids can afford it, because they don’t have to buy anything substantial.

That doesn’t explain to me why there’s such a focus on teenagers.

… For one thing, companies focus on marketing to teenagers because they hope they’ll adopt early, which means that they’ll form a brand loyalty with a product and it will continue [through] the rest of their lives.

So a smart company is not just thinking, I want to market to this 15-year-old in front of me, but they think, I want to market to the 32-year-old they’ll become.

And do kids get this? Do they understand?

Kids understand that they’re being marketed to, but I almost feel like that has bred an immunity in them where they think that they’re no longer victims of messages of a brand, a branded America. They sort of feel that they have insight into how they’re being branded to, so that that means that they’re inoculated to the effects, which we know is not the case.

Explain that.

When I was doing my research for Branded, I’d meet groups of teenagers and preteenagers or tweens, and they would laugh at a magazine spread in a women’s magazine or teen girl magazine and say: “I’d never buy this outfit. I know these girls are starving themselves.” But they probably would go out and buy the thing eventually.

So the weariness was masking the desire, or they almost felt because they knew how they were being marketed to they wouldn’t fall prey to it, but they did anyway. …

Why? Because the pictures are so irresistible?

I think a lot of it’s conformity. I think teenagers buy because they want to stay kind of competitive with their classmates.

A lot of the kids I interviewed for my book Branded, the more vulnerable, the less popular, sort of the second tier, the B crowd as I call them, were often the ones who were spending the most because they were trying to compensate in some way and rise [in] the ranks of popularity. So it was kind of a maneuver to insulate themselves from their classmates, to stay in with the best products.

So it was an interesting thing. I mean, it wasn’t always the most popular kids who were consuming the most. I mean, this is anecdotal, but it was something that I saw.

… Is this something that companies are aware of? Are they taking advantage of kids?

When I was researching my book, I would talk to kids who were engaged in peer-to-peer marketing, which meant that they were recruiting their fellow students to buy various stuff. So it’s not just that kids are falling prey to the companies. They’re falling prey to the student that’s very persuasive.

Now we look at social media. Adolescents and teens are selling without any prompting. Back in, this was 1999 or 2000, they were being, if not paid, [then] given swag or gear by companies to sell to their friends.

Now it’s more like, “Oh, I just love this,” “like,” as you would put it, “generation like.” They don’t even need to be recruited for the street teams that used to exist.

This was the ’90s, so they’d have street teams that were asked to sell music to their peers. They’d be recruited; they’d be 15, 16, 17, and at that point it was the Backstreet Boys, and they’d be selling to their friends. And companies thought that was more effective than a general advertising campaign I guess, or a television campaign.

Why would they think it was more effective?

The feeling is kids identify with their peers more than a pitchman or someone on a screen. That might not be true if Beyonce is your pitchperson, but I think if it’s just a generic advertisement, [it’s more effective] having a friend say, “I like this because this is the best music ever,” not because I’m really getting swag or because I’m an ambassador.

They used to call them “brand ambassadors,” some of these teenagers and tweens who were selling things, and that was interesting for me, because obviously the teens really want to identify with someone their own age. You see it with kids all the time. My daughter’s 2 years old, and she wants to get the approval of the 3-year-old, you know, not the approval of the 30-year-old teacher. Just amplify that in adolescence.

Is it a trust thing, that I trust your endorsement more because you’re my own age?

Yeah, I think teens trust each other’s opinions about products because of the quality of authenticity that they think their friend’s recommendation has. That’s what you see a lot now on Facebook and Reddit and all these kinds of sites. “Oh, my friend likes this; it must be authentic.”

And so few things are authentic even, if anything. But I think that for the teenagers, that’s always been a huge phantom they’ve been chasing, a phantom of authenticity.

A lot of the other people that we’ve been talking to have mentioned a group of kids as influencers. What is that? Is that the same as an ambassador?

Yeah, that’s the same as a brand ambassador, maybe not explicitly. Maybe influencers are the first kid in their school that gets the certain sneaker that becomes wildly popular, the first kid that buys the new ’80s high-tops that are coming back in fashion in bright colors — you started seeing them a couple years ago, and not everyone had them — or the first kid who starts dressing clean, like Kanye [West]. A couple years ago, I noticed that. I went and spoke to a school in the Bronx, and there was a couple of kids who were dressed super-clean, and that was a new thing at that point.

So they’re usually the kids with the most vision or most aesthetic, most aware of what’s going on in the outside world. They’re usually quite smart, the influencers. They’re not actually necessarily the great unwashed that we might imagine. But they’re the ones that are really effective at telling their peers, “Oh, you should get this; you should like this.”

But what do they get in return? What’s the benefit of being an influencer?

… I think for the most part if you’re an influencer it’s just like you get to be first, and that in itself is a reward.

“I think cool used to be identified with scarcity, the jazz singer who turns his back to the audience. Now cool has become omnipresent. So there’s been a real shift in what cool is.”

… So much of what we’ve been talking about with this documentary is the currency of likes. It’s good to be liked, and it’s good to like things, because liking associates you with things that will get you more liked.

The obsession with popularity always existed, and it was probably there in the creation of the term “adolescents” or “teenager” back in the ’50s. But I think what’s happened more with social media is you see people liking a pop star, liking a video — often it’s a video — liking a phrase, and it just goes wild. It’s about wanting to be included. It’s about a certain kind of conformity.

But it’s also not only the world of teenagers. The adult world is [rife] with people who like what other people like, right? I’m on Facebook, and I’m liking what my friends like, and part of this is that we’re living somewhat in a culture of self-promotion. And I don’t think teenagers are ignoring that. I think they’re understanding that as well as adults do.

It’s I think a side effect of living in such a data-rich and socially networked universe, where narcissism is not a condition; it’s a strategy, … strategy toward betterment, toward improvement, creating community, which sounds ironic, like how can narcissism help us create community? But it’s sort of like the person with the most aggressive data stream wins, who posts the most, who likes the most, who’s most present and ubiquitous.

I think cool used to be identified with scarcity, the jazz singer who turns his back to the audience. Now cool has become omnipresent. So there’s been a real shift in what cool is. That’s one thing that we’re talking about underneath our conversation about teenagers.

Let’s talk more about that, because that’s a fascinating shift. …

… I think cool originates with the jazz culture in the ’40s. There was probably cool before that, but that’s when people started talking about cool — Miles Davis and Charlie Parker and a bunch of other early, cool jazz folk.

Then it sort of got absorbed as the height of adolescent style, so an example of that would be James Dean. James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause is cool.

But one of the things with all these people that we’re describing from an earlier period of cool is that they resisted; they withheld. They were emotive without being emotional. They gave off like a cold light, right? And they were not giving that much.

Now I think coolness is about giving everything. It’s like you have to be constantly selling yourself, showing yourself and marketing yourself and using technology and using multiple platforms, because you might even seem sort of half mad. Instead of turning your back to the audience or wearing sunglasses at night, you’re taking off those sunglasses and you’re smiling into the camera, and it’s like there’s a real shift. …

The currency now is one of constant approval and a constant hum of self-assertion rather than standing back and hoping people come to you. It’s a real change.

Is that because actually liking with teens is the thing to do, or is that because that’s just the way the system works, like if you go on Facebook all you can do is like? There’s no dislike; there’s no whatever. …

I feel this all the time. My friends will be posting stories about Syria, and I’m like, “Like!” Do I really, though? I don’t really like this. This is stories of atrocity, but that is your only option. And that’s actually a great point. What does that mean that we’re constantly liking things? …

… People aren’t even identifying with a brand; they’re identifying with everything except themselves. So it’s just “Like, like, like, like, like, like, like.” What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they producing? I don’t know. …

… How much of this sort of cultural shift is being dictated not by the kids but by the people that are controlling the platforms that the kids go on?

I think the thing is a lot of people that created this culture are kids, or were kids when they created it, so it does actually reflect a teenage lifestyle. I mean, how old was Mark Zuckerberg when he conceived of this? I think that’s one thing that we have to think about.

It’s not just the adult advertisers versus the supplicant teens. It’s now like the teenagers are creating this architecture. They grow up and they become super-rich Silicon Valley types, and then there’s this giant underclass of people forced to go, “Like, like, like, like, like,” and who are probably around their age, you know?

So it’s not that they’re the 50-year-old in the Mad Men office. These are mostly people in their 20s and their early 30s who have created this architecture.

“They’re not just buying stuff; they’re leaving a trail of who they were when they were 15 for the rest of time, for every corporation and every employer that they’ll ever come across.”

Does this make this a benign thing then? … What’s wrong with it?

Like everything, I feel like the contemporary “like” culture is one of paradox. For one thing, people are probably consuming a lot more culture than they might have in the past because they have so much access to it.

They’re constructing themselves from bits and pieces, like I said, so they’re sort of like magpies, and wasn’t that the basis of punk rock, that pastiche? People are created of bits and pieces, you know, so maybe this is a part of a new creation of self that’s happening with adolescence. That’s the plus side.

The dark side is that they’re creating a lot of data that is being taken from them that they’re not profiting from. They’re creating a trail of identifying marks for their future employers or health insurers that they don’t necessarily have control over.

So in a way it’s more ominous than it was in the ’90s, because they’re not just buying stuff; they’re leaving a trail of who they were when they were 15 for the rest of time, for every corporation and every employer that they’ll ever come across.

That’s a scary thought.

Yeah. …

I think in a way branding has become more ominous, I mean the branding world. In a sense these kids are really branded for life, you know. This was what a couple of companies aiming at teenagers wanted to do in 2000. …

Now it’s like an eternity of information that these kids are dispensing, and as we know from what’s been going on lately with our surveillance of our data, at least we’re adults. At least we sort of can recognize that this is happening. I wonder what’s happening with the 16-year-old who’s just posting pictures of themselves drinking, where that’s going to end up.

Are kids more exhibitionist today? I feel like if this technology existed when I was in high school, nobody would be texting me naked pictures of themselves. It wouldn’t have occurred to us.

… Who knows? I probably would been sending Joy Division lyrics, and I’d be seen as a future suicide that an employer would look at, and I just think that there would have been some other dark narrative that would have surrounded us probably. If somebody wanted to construe the details of our adolescence, they probably would have. …

I was just watching Reality Bites again, the film, and there was a lot of posing in that film and a lot of negation. And it’s just not something that you see as much in contemporary teen films. You don’t see people critiquing mass culture. It’s just not happening.

And I wrote this in Branded. I felt like it changes in the mid-90s. There was a real shift in what teen films were like. It became a cinema of the in crowd. I mean, there’s some exceptions — there’s X-Men or something — but for the most part, it’s not a critical forum anymore. So I don’t know.

Kids sort of share everything constantly. Is that simply because they can, or is this generation of kids in some ways substantially different than us?

… Right now I’m working on a story about self-quantifiers and people who quantify details about themselves, from how many miles they run, what their sleep habits are; they wear Zeo bands or UP bands on their wrists. It’s not just teenagers. It’s adults who are sharing these really minute details about themselves.

I do wonder what that’s going to do to memory. I mean, if memory for people who are 40 is a graduation ring or sports jersey or grainy photo of their lost boyfriend or girlfriend, is it now going to be the record of their respiration or how many seconds it took for them to pound a shot, which they measured on their smartphone and which they sent to their friends?

So is memory going to change substantially from having shared such kinds of quantified details about yourself, and also embarrassing details? My guess is probably.

It’s this impulse to share, right, what you’re saying? It seems like nobody keeps hidden diaries anymore.

Yeah, and instead of diaries, now there’s blogging and videos. I wonder if it’s sort of like the depersonalized self. You know, people are no longer selves for themselves. They’re selves for others.

But the paradox here is that that sort of narcissism is a strategy in the sense that people are promoting themselves constantly, and even teenagers are promoting themselves constantly.

I started to see some of that when I wrote my second book, Hothouse Kids, which was about prodigies, so I was tracking young performers who were selling themselves, and they were selling themselves like crazy. …

A lot of them were just constantly marketing themselves in this really canny way that I didn’t understand at the time. I was like, how are they doing this? This was before the rise of social networks, but the Web had really taken off. They were already posting Web blogs that they were going to make [books] that they were going to turn into [films], and they had multiple platforms, whatever “platforms” meant in that period.

So I started to really see change. Simultaneously it’s like a loss of privacy but a rise of kind of a professional narcissism around people who are teenagers. That’s a strange combination. It’s a paradox, but it kind of connects. It’s like me, me, me. I’ll give you anything as long as you’re paying attention to me.

It’s like performance more than a life. … That’s a weird way to go through childhood, adolescence, isn’t it?

I think so. I wrote about this a little bit for New York [Magazine], for their website. I wrote a piece called “The Age of Hipster Sexism,” and I think some of that is related to that. Like you see in Girls, it’s like all the characters — and I have to imagine Lena Dunham is aware of this — are presenting themselves to each other.

I’ve seen some of this with young people when I’ve encountered them, like they’re presenting themselves constantly. There’s a certain lack of quietness or internality.

… Kids are at a weird time. You’re trying on different personas; you’re experimenting; you’re getting to know yourself. And that always seemed to be something that could be done quietly, done in the privacy of your own room at home. And now it just seems like … there’s no dress rehearsal; it’s just the performance. If you agree with that, could you talk a little about that and the implications of that, because this is a fragile time in a person’s life.

What I think you’re seeing now is teenagers living out in social space rather than living in private space. They’ll be living in blogs and vlogs; they’ll be sharing and liking; they may be starting businesses really early, as I tracked with some of the prodigies in my second book.

And the upside of that is what I’ve been writing about in my latest book, Republic of Outsiders, is you see social movements starting from really unique places, because everyone is living out — you know, putting up posts about their gender dysmorphia or their psychological issues or whatever craft project they’re doing, so at the same time you have really these small minorities that are managing to have their voices heard and get their message of tolerance or social change or even just the “I’m out here!” out there.

So that’s the double-edged sword for me about that kind of constant expression of self. You have a lack of privacy and people performing. It’s not a dress rehearsal; it’s a performance, it’s a theater piece. But then you have people performing for large audiences who before would be hiding in the shadows. So you have teenagers who are starting these movements and getting a lot of traction.

So for some it is empowering?

I think it is. I think for some being out and performing, as you say, is empowering. It’s empowering and impactful for other people, I think for normal people.

There are youth minorities who are able to figure out who they are and express themselves, whether they’re vegans or trans or even they’re socially conservative, so whatever [they are] they’re able to get their message out there, and they’re not alone.

That’s the positive part of all this, that they’re communicating. They’re forming counterculture communities really early rather than being isolated. I think a lot of kids 20 years ago were pretty isolated if they were in any way different, so there’s that piece, too.

That piece being the ability for kids to break out of their isolation?

Yeah. So you have kids either communicating, performing themselves in this conformist way and living so publicly and shopping and endorsing so publicly and kind of mindlessly to the naked eye. And then you also have kids who are real, true outsiders who are able to perform themselves and communicate and endorse and get attention and connect to other people like them, and also people who are so-called normal. To me that’s the sort of division now in youth culture.

With everybody having the ability to sort of broadcast, … if actually getting attention is important for you, how do you rise above that din? If you don’t have superior talent, does it become a race to the bottom of outrageousness and ridiculousness to get that attention?

I can image that a lot of teenagers are feeling pretty competitive about being visible. So it could be a race to the bottom on YouTube and other forms of social media.

But I think it’s also an incredibly aggressive rise to the top. In the middle class you have kids competing like never before on the SATs to get into college, to launch their careers early.

They know they’re in a faltering economy; they have to get jobs. And I know young people are just fighting tooth and nail for those kinds of things and trying to create that kind of cultural trail, that’s not just one of exposing themselves, but it’s a somewhat frightening kind of capitalist self-discovery as well.

… If it was one of us, it would be, “Oh, I made my first TV program by the time I’m 18, and I have to do that to get into college.” So on one hand it’s people that are total exhibitionists, and on the other hand it’s people trying to launch their careers at really early ages. …

If everybody has this megaphone from which they can scream for attention, does that just completely level the playing field again? It becomes that much harder to rise above it?

We’re living in an attention economy, right, where everyone is fighting for a teeny place to be heard. So you have professionals who are no longer earning a living as musicians or journalists, and you have amateurs and teenagers.

You can quickly pick up a megaphone and start a magazine like Rookie. There’s a young woman who was fashion-obsessive — she’s probably still a teenager — started a website in her house, and then it became the fashion darling. So you have that.

But yeah, the bar is high for the amateur, but then they’re also pushing out people who are older, much better trained. There’s just dozens of paradoxes with all this.

As far as the competitiveness goes, does that extend to quantifying your friends, followers and likes and all of that?

I think teenagers now are as adults as well. The thing is we’re fetishizing the teenager, but I think teenagers and adults collect followers compulsively. How many Twitter followers do I have? How many Facebook followers do I have? And [we] judge one another based on that, so it becomes a new standard of popularity.

“If everybody is a Facebook friend, what is an actual friend?”

… Does the attachment to numbers and statistics really amp up the competitiveness?

I think it does. I’m getting liked and Facebook-friended by lots of teenagers that I don’t know. Maybe they read my first book. But I think that some of them are probably trying to amp up their Facebook numbers, and they’re liking anything they vaguely like that they come into contact with.

But I’m not their friend. For me the more worrisome thing is that they don’t understand what a friend is. If everybody is a Facebook friend, what is an actual friend?

… We’ve described this landscape that’s more interactive, and it empowers kids to talk back to, to forge relationships with their favorite brands or celebrities. How does that change the game of marketing to kids like this? … Does this technology make it harder or easier for Pepsi to market its products to kids?

The technology means that there’s more things going on than just watching advertisements on TV for teenagers. … It’s just creating a new channel for liking things like Pepsi or Abercrombie, which is not probably that hot anymore, Urban Outfitters.

But is there an expectation now on behalf of brands and products to really engage and almost make participatory their own marketing efforts? Like, I didn’t have to do anything to buy products back in the day other than just go buy stuff, but now it seems like these marketing campaigns are drawing the kids in to make them be part of it.

… There’s a Doritos campaign where they asked for videos. There’s a lot of car campaigns where people send in photos. It’s becomes kind of a standard-issue thing in advertising, especially the advertising to youth, to try to make it participatory, to get teenagers involved in producing their own culture.

Now again, the plus side of this is that maybe they’re producing their own culture, maybe they’re producing a video they wouldn’t have produced before, so at least there’s some expression involved in this.

But the downside is it’s instantly being co-opted. It’s only at the service of the Doritos or the car that it’s supposedly celebrating. So I term this “self-co-optation.” Instead of being co-opted, they’re offering themselves up to be co-opted.

Companies are not even aggressively pursuing kids and other vulnerable Americans, because let’s say teenagers are vulnerable Americans. Kids are already willing and able and eager to make videos or send in their photos to campaigns.

What’s the thinking behind that? I don’t work for Pepsi for free. Why?

It’s the same old thing that I saw in the ’90s, I saw 10 years ago. I am Pepsi. I am Abercrombie. It’s this identification and this feeling of being kind of like the halo effect of a brand, or feeling somehow enshrined and safe under the auspices of a brand.

Does the potential of fame or discovery play into it as well?

Yeah, especially if you’re looking at competitions, all the music competitions for teenagers. I don’t know if anyone has been watching The Voice, but there’s a 16-year-old on it who is wearing hot pants and singing ballads with a 36-year-old coach, and I think there’s no irony about that.

There’s no irony about any of these competitions. I mean, I’m sure there are in certain quarters, but it just seems like there was probably more irony around American Idol than there is around The Voice. …

Are kids being tricked?

I think reality television has helped to trick kids about the machinations in the background of music. I just mentioned The Voice. I think The Voice, which has a lot of young contestants, obviously the producers or somebody is coaching both the contestants and the coaches and dressing them.

But there is this thing when you’re watching reality shows, especially where it’s on three nights a week, so you feel it’s Stockholm Syndrome. You start to believe that this is real and being kind of lulled into believing that they’re not being coached and there is not background production going on.

Even in the age of ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys, there’s that guy Lou — what’s his name? There was Lou Pearlman in the age of the Backstreet Boys, and I think they’re less cynical then because he appeared. There’s some program about the making of the Backstreet Boys.

At least they were sort of airing out that they were doing these things, and they’re not anymore, and that has something to do with reality television, because it’s a whole industry of people pretending to be real, and that’s been a really important part of the entertainment, that you don’t recognize there’s production.

It’s also that interactivity with the celebrity or the friend. … You’re Twittering with them, you’re part of some Facebook campaign with them, you’re sending them pictures on Instagram, so it’s all tied in. But really Beyonce isn’t sitting there working this on the other end, right?

I wonder what happens with all these kids writing to stars or following them on Twitter if they actually think it’s Beyonce. I think there’s a couple celebrities who do their own Tweeting, but for the most part no.

Do they think they’re communicating directly to the demiurge, Beyonce or whomever? Or do they think that there’s obviously a handler or a techno expert at work? It’s hard to know.

It’s hard to know what young people think identity is. I think that’s the fundamental question. Like is it OK [that] it’s — whatever we’re calling Beyonce — [is it OK that] who’s communicating to us is just a Trojan horse for a bunch of handlers?

The stuff you’ve been working on now has been about these outsiders, right, people of genuine talent, right, who are creating genuinely interesting and innovative, what we’d call cool content? Can we just talk about some of the examples? Like music, how does this co-optation happen?

In my book I talk to a lot of people who were, I call them “identity innovators.” I was trying to use the term “innovators” to talk about something beyond just, “Oh, here’s a new iPad.”

I think there’s really interesting [things] that a lot of Americans are doing — [blogger] Benjamin Rock, transmedia, which is interactive media that people are creating in their own houses without needing to go to a studio, doing a workaround.

But the problem is that right now, partially due to social media, it’s very easy for this work to just be appropriated. So you start with a concept like transmedia, which, oh, it looks really cool. It’s this platform storytelling where you have people creating cartoons and films and videos. They’re quasi-amateurs, and they’re not backed by even independent studios, and they’re doing it themselves. Then you see those same techniques used to advertise the new Star Trek movie or the new TV show. So I think the line between these creative amateur outsider works and the selling of Hollywood and the major-label artists is very fine.

I think Hollywood is still getting a lot of their ideas from people on the outside, but it’s even more they’re looking to them for innovation, because how do you sell something now? Kids aren’t going to films anymore, so what do you do?

OK, you’re going to borrow from the poor guy who is in his basement cutting on his Mac, and you’re going to try to figure out how do you use the techniques for selling on every single form of social media and through multiple genres, and you’re going to try to use it to sell multibillion-, [multi]million-dollar films.

And that’s through transmedia you’re talking about? That’s a word we don’t know.

“Transmedia,” I think it was originated by Henry Jenkins — he’s a scholar at MIT — and it was a term to describe newly integrated media, so a project that would have text in it and music and sound and video. You wouldn’t go to the theater to see it necessarily. You’d be watching it on the Web, and it would have a lot of different elements.

Then, the way that we’d find out about a transmedia project would be through the radio; it would be through our friends’ Twitter feed or through word of mouth or through a cartoon book that had something to do with the film.

It’s an unusual way of storytelling and unusual way of disseminating and publicizing the way that we’re telling stories. …

Could you describe this atmosphere of almost 360-degree marketing?

Marketing is everywhere. I sounded notes of shock and dismay when they used to have soda machines in schools and they started naming rights in public school. This was like 2004, when you’d have a high school named after a soft drink.

But now it’s to the point where it’s embedded in everything. It’s every bus-stop sign, it’s on every website constantly, and it’s on your Facebook account that knows that you are buying a lamp for your 2-year-old and constantly takes you to a lamp store even though you have no use for lamps.

We’re living Minority Report in a sense, the book by Philip K. Dick, which had commercials everywhere, right? And we can’t get away from them.

That extends itself to outsider culture in the sense that you have amateurs and independent artists who are coming up in this age of social media who are able to create art and publicize it in unusual ways through using multiple platforms to create it, and then using multiple platforms to publicize it using their friendship networks, creating unusual kinds of cartoon or graffiti campaigns, let’s say.

That has been appropriated by Hollywood when they’re now selling big-budget films aimed at teenagers, because they’re losing their share of the teen audience. …

I think Hollywood is extremely concerned about losing audience in general and the value of celebrity lowering. I mean, at this point, certain stars can’t open films that they used to be able to, so they’re falling back, maybe for better or worse, on these guerrilla techniques of selling to teenagers, selling films and television shows to teenagers and video games.

… I think sophisticated big-budget films would be using these techniques because they recognize that teenagers don’t necessarily watch TV or listen to the radio or even pay attention to advertising in magazines, that they are probably using Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, Tumblr — go on from there — Instagram.

They probably listen to what their friends like, which is what they’ve always done, and they’ll probably be more open to unconventional techniques like graphic artist books or pamphlets that go along with something, street art or kids themselves collaborating supposedly with the filmmakers by sending in images of themselves with a bow and arrow. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but … they recognize that that is the way to get teenagers.

The way to get teenagers is not the advertising in the newspaper, because even adults aren’t reading newspapers anymore. It’s to use these transmedia strategies and to sell products related to the film. It’s not just Star Wars for 5-year-olds. It’s also for 17-year-olds.

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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