Merchants of Cool

Frontline: Merchants of CoolThey 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?

FRONTLINE correspondent Douglas Rushkoff examines the tactics, techniques, and cultural ramifications of these marketing moguls in The Merchants of Cool. Produced by Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin, the 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.

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. (Excerpt from pbs.org)

Watch the full documentary now

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Ratings: 8.11/10 from 9 users.
  • Der Oberst

    Great documentary, very informative!!!

    Regards,
    Der Oberst

  • Che Guevara

    Well done! As a teenager myself and admirer of the 60s culture, I knew for a fact that something was wrong with our generation. The media has surely guided my generation into a narcissistic, all consuming group. However, I cant help wondering what is the solution to this disease!

  • hmm

    How freaky would it be to get asked random questions by a research marketers.. pretty uncool.

  • TONY NAHAL

    I saw this for my CAT 1 class for Sixth College. I hate the class, but i LOVED LOVED the movie.Before I desperately hoped to be one of the "cool" kids. Now not so much. I feel that the music industry is ineffective towards me b/c i am incapable of being cool.

  • TONY NAHAL

    oh and the illuminati control the music industry.. Jay-z, Rihanna, and Kanye are all part of the conspiracy.

  • Nitish Sachar

    Hey do you Carlisle's M/W/F class? If so i need help on my essay due Wednesday.

  • Miguel Paysan

    CAT is the shittiest class ever!!! I hate it!!

  • CMcF

    Tony, I'm not sure if you are being facecious or not but I believe that the Mass Media Music Industry is helping to keep the population cowed, however the insidiousness of "The Illuminati" is that JayZ, Rhianna and Kanye wouldn't even know about the conspiracy. In the same way as most masons only know of the first 3 levels.

    The "artists" don't even realize that the are mere pawns being used to sell this image of "cool". Have you ever noticed how mainstream music is so generic? I'm sure most of us have. The HUGE corporations that control the industry want there to be the facade of artistic creativity so that everything looks on the level but really it's the most generic garbage music that has ever been made.

    I'm not saying that these people aren't talented either just that their creativity is stifled by the profit machine. I hope that because of sites like this people continue to recognize just what garbage we are being fed from the food we eat to the art we make.

    This doc is well worth watching. As they all are really, I may not agree with everything in every doc on here (obviously), but I can say that I am a more aware and better informed individual because of it. I know this may sound a little grandiose but I truly believe that you are doing humanity a great service here Vlatko, thanks a million!

  • ThinkingFemale

    This was a most fascinating and informative documentary. I was always concerned about having children because of the seeming decay of the culture-only to see that the decay is carefully orchestrated. Now I know, I know how to prepare my children...if and when I do have them. Thanks Rushkoff.

  • Luke Wilson

    Hahah this does not only apply to teens... This applies to people in there early twenties aswell.. Just go to any university and see for yourself. Hell, I should know. I go to one!!

  • Luke Wilson

    Its cool to be uncool?

  • Nwttp

    Funny... I was about 14 when this came out 10 years ago. I remember watching all those horrible TRL's because it was supposedly the cool thing to watch all the while wondering why anyone would find this stuff entertaining. I mean if anyone around my age reading this really liked Limp Bizkit back then...wow.

    It's always cooler to not follow any trends, too bad most girls learned that much later than me.

  • Gromath

    Who the f*ck watches MTV anymore?

  • Ravenclas

    A great documentary...
    The big question is: are we against the system (& I mean not only the subject of this film but a more encompassing super-system of our society) in every smallest deed or we just go downstream for a carrot or two?

  • ned

    Some machines cannot be seen because...

    A) Is is not made of anything you can see or touch
    B) Its purpose is to control while remaining hidden
    C) Oh yeah, you are inside it!

    Welcome to the machine!

  • zac efron

    Great look into today's youth culture. I'm probably one of the only kids in middle class america who grew up without cable TV. I've always wondered why my peers thought certain stuff was interesting or 'cool.' This packaged a lot the ideas i had growing up nicely. I wish I had seen this a couple of years ago it would have made my teenage years much less confusing.

    Many of my friends, who have grown up in similar situations, and I see most, if not all, aspects of culture as largely meaningless. I think as people grow older they come to this realization. As a college student it is fairly common to hear people claim a distaste for popular culture and those a bit older tend to disregard it completely. Ultimately, it may be diminishing companies ability to sell culture products to older generations, as people are forced to come to this point of view earlier. Hopefully, it has little affect our societies ability to deal with real issue when they come up. However, the size of this 'cool hunting' industry means that it is attracting more skilled and talented people. Which is a shame since we have so many pressing problems today.

  • Simon

    It's funny, teens say no one understand them, and take pitchforks to the mainstream, the corporations like MTV the very ones they wish to rebel against, say "We feel you dude, we corporations are evil, Here's a match, let me light your torch for you" whilst they record the video, and mass produce the torch! and the teens buy that brand of Torch, making the very corporations obscenely wealthy.
    The sweet sweet sweet Irony

  • Jeremy

    I watched Merchants of Cool in Political Science. The political science instuructor expalined about how teens in America are into the latest fad and how marketing affects society in America.

  • Bishop

    It can be even more interesting if you are willing to remember how influence we were as teenagers. Remember when you just had to have the latest trendy thing and begged your parents to get it for you? That entire encounter was probably engineered and planned by someone like the R&D people in this doc!

  • Ni

    Bishop
    That has been orchestrated before! I can't remember the lady's name, but she was a terrible woman that came up with something called the nag factor, to see how they could make ads to make kids want their products. Have you watched the Corporation? She is interviewed in that movie. Highly recommended! It should be listed on this site...

  • Dodgy

    This was a well made doc, kept me engaged and said lots of things I've thought about previously but never had anyone to ask to validate it.

    I agree most def. about that feedback loop, kids do imitate what they are told is cool as do adults! but I don't agree about trend setters coming from the odd or strange. Trends come from pockets and spread if the right things fall into place... things you can't track. If they think they have it all figured out, have them explain why 2 pair of socks became popular in the 80's.

    ICP I thought of as mainstream music because who else do they favor but that mook that was mentioned. They also have those that can't stand them that are considered cool so go figure.

    What is cool in one area isn't the same as another either so while cowboy boots are all the rage in the northern part of this state, if you wore them here in the city we would call you an out of touch hick or make a joke about where you parked yer horse partner.

  • LonelyWolf

    America has always been the nest of prostitution and moral decadence, be it for financial gain or manipulation of souls.

    Nothing is sacred as long as the bottom dollar is in sight. The documentary is another waste of time and more propaganda because no one is really looking for the antidote to this disease that Americans suffer from: corporate greed!

    We all know what the problem is, yet no one volunteers to find a solution.

    I hope I live long enough to see some sort of holocaust and all means of communications ended. Getting back to basics will be a monumental task for Americans, compared to third world countries. Unfortunately, the new breed is all crusty on the outside and marshmallow on the inside. The songs, lyrics, face painting, piercing, garments, drugs reflect a nation of lost Bedouins in search of mental and emotional sanctuary.

    All right, I must admit it is informative for the few who would take the time off from feeding the beast and processing the simplicity of life for a moment. Alas, the beastly machine is mighty, compared to the number of minions who feed it.

  • KIDs=$$$

    yeah I guess all that has been said have validity But how boring would life be without influences and fads? I remember being washed into youth oriented products now im washed in mid adult oriented products.
    Man this video initself has become prehistoric. Cds,VHS, and nothing is in 3d?? While I agree that corportations play a major role in mass media and culture I dont think they are to blame.
    The tube puts on what it thinks will sell and it is up to the consumer to watch or buy. Example PBS, they ask for public donations, is that any different than an artist telling you to buy their cd?
    The 20s had jazz, the 60s rock n roll the 80s ballad rock the 90s grudge and rap now its??? idk I have not kept up with the trend... rap... My facination is what is the next fad? what will be the cool thing... jerking? whats that?
    So Corporations are bad mmkay but I feel that one must adapt to change. it cant be the 1950s and it cant be the 2000s for that matter. Keep growing and just to give an example the Egypt revolt??? YOUTHS taking the steets not a corporation but one can argue the Governments intrest PEACE LOVE and UNITY because hate is Bogus!!

  • KIDs=$$$

    yeah I guess all that has been said have validity But how boring would life be without influences and fads? I remember being washed into youth oriented products now im washed in mid adult oriented products.
    Man this video initself has become prehistoric. Cds,VHS, and nothing is in 3d?? While I agree that corportations play a major role in mass media and culture I dont think they are to blame.
    The tube puts on what it thinks will sell and it is up to the consumer to watch or buy. Example PBS, they ask for public donations, is that any different than an artist telling you to buy their cd?
    The 20s had jazz, the 60s rock n roll the 80s ballad rock the 90s grudge and rap now its??? idk I have not kept up with the trend… rap… My facination is what is the next fad? what will be the cool thing… jerking? whats that?
    So Corporations are bad mmkay but I feel that one must adapt to change. it cant be the 1950s and it cant be the 2000s for that matter. Keep growing and just to give an example the Egypt revolt??? YOUTHS taking the steets not a corporation but one can argue the Governments intrest PEACE LOVE and UNITY because hate is Bogus!!

  • http://profiles.google.com/monique.aube M A

    I'd be very interested in seeing them retake the subject in 2011, see how different or similar this machine is. This doc reflects well my... childhood/early teens. But... I think that pretty early on, I got really frustrated with all the insincere 'trends' and such. I like to think that in the 2000's, I am not buying into this fake culture. I wonder how others feel about it. In the nineties, especially with the britney spears and the like, it was obvious that the music industry wasn't really about the music, it had more to do with attitude and clothing and sexuality, and as a kid, I knew that to a certain level. But... when you see that all the female pop stars are essentially the same, it's like an overload. I wasn't able to believe in it at any level anymore and I started looking for something real, real music that can make me feel human because it's music, not... propaganda. I am now studying in classical music and I feel so very satisfied as a human being. I understand that industry can't cater to my self awareness, but I remember feeling so very lost in that media blitz as a kid, couldn't actually relate to any of it, I really thought that becoming that image was something... people had to do, a societal prerequisite. I was being made into an object, made to shed who I was, whoever that might be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=847015012 Greg Cox

    By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising...kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I'm doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan's little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show. Seriously, I know the marketing people: 'There's gonna be a joke comin' up.' There's no fuckin' joke. Suck a tail pipe, hang yourself...borrow a pistol from an NRA buddy, do something...rid the world of your evil fuckin' presence.
    Bill Hicks

  • Guest

    Funny how i thought, If you wrote these words people would be on your ass barking, but because it is from Hicks...you'll get applauses.
    az

  • gabbledegook

    legal clever open child predators sad sad world sometimes

  • Stephen Avallone

    It was interesting to note that most or all of the "machine's" doers and shakers were not that much older than the youths themselves. And it was interesting to note their absolute devotion to ... what? ...profit? status? power? totally devoid of any social reflection. Who is behind them? Who is pulling their strings?

    I do believe that there are enough people who see through all this. Its just that thoughtful, self-reflective people are not interested in blowing their own horns. In fact, cannot.

  • Liebewitz

    5 minutes in

    --almost ready to leave here!

    cunningham-(name says it all)---prior to that-

    guy with v neck and chin follicles to match----

    of gen x-

    selling 'stuff' to gen zzzzzzz

    Get flotsam n detritus of these generations-into the largest arena-and drop the neutron bomb....

    Save the useful infrastructure. More IQ-I bet- in cement

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gareth-Sidwell/505963025 Gareth Sidwell

    I had a similar sort of reflection on this. When I was 13/14 I bought into Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Eminem and the like, because of the rebellion, obscenities and I guess because it was "cool"
    I would say that this was a necessity for me to become exposed to, and experience more and more types of music.
    Unfortunately it seems that the people who I used to share and enjoy this music with become so accustomed to it being force fed through TV and Radio that there is almost a "learned helplessness" or laziness when it comes to choice, or looking elsewhere for music, a fear of being alienated from peer groups by association.

    This is a shame because I believe everybody has a musical capacity, and having just finished a job where chart music is played daily, I realise that lyrics are often about the same subject material, musical exploration minimal, and subcultures of even recent years are watered down and sold back with auto-tuned vocals. (As you can hear now in the charts with Dubstep and Drum and Bass being mashed into pop tunes)

    I would argue also that Music, (as with literature and art) there are still many people creating great material, if not more so than ever, and perhaps without a material aim. You just have to sift through an awful lot of shit to get to the good stuff! Although it may not be the most talented or hardworking people who "make it", that very consequence may damage the reason you listen to that music in the first place.

    A Marxist view would argue that this is purely "Art for commodities sake" and that its creation only exists to fill the gap that the market creates. Although to some extent I agree, most artists are genuine in their intentions of pushing the boundaries, making something credible. It is when it enters the marketplace that external influences get involved (Pr, Promo Teams, Managers, Producers with "make a hit" short term mentality) that it is tarnished, and the artist can no longer function on their own terms.

    Great site by the way, I am a regular visitor, never comment, but keep up the good work dude!

  • gunk wretch

    hopefully the internet can decentralize the mainstream so that teens can have a variety of independent sources for their culture, also so that these corporations cannot profit so easily we need a strong pirate distribution network.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HRQ2WIZUSEQDZ4BVXP4BBPXRQY Cas

    You make an observation....try to understand the mechanism of how it works, and then attempt to create an artificial (one you engineered)version.

    That is how we approach most things, so no surprise someone does a research on what made Beatles popular....then followed it with decades of one boy band after another, always coinciding with peak periods of teenage girls in the demographics...

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5AETZZQ22KQF5T3YEKZA7TP6OM Liz

    ew whatever is pictured on the first screen before you click play needs to die.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Z6NTZB5JJK5LF3UNO2DTSSKNXI m

    It's a shame what these people will do just to penetrate your mind with the ideas and lifestyle they want you to live.

    Quotes:
    I think we are destroying the minds of America and that has been one of my lifelong ambitions - John Kricfalusi (creator of the Ren and Stimpy Show)

    Kids won’t even find out how much their values have been perverted until they hit high school - Esquire Magazine

    We have come to expect hidden messages in our kids’ TV - Douglas Rushkoff (Media Virus)

    It is a great source of error to believe that there is no perception in the soul besides those of which it is conscious - Gotffried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

    Children’s television and MTV, in fact, are the easiest places to launch counterculture missiles. The more harmless or inane the forum, the more unsuspecting the audience – Douglas Rushkoff (Media Virus)

    The language of business is not a language of the soul or the language of humanity. It’s a language of indifference, it’s a language of separation, secrecy and hierarchy – Anita Rodderick (creator of the Body Shop)

    …the corporation remains as it was at the time of its origins, as a mad business institution in the middle of the nineteenth century, and legally designated “person” designed to valorize self interest and invalidate moral concern. Most people would find its “personality” abnormal, even psychopathic, in a human being, yet curiously we accept it in society’s most powerful institutions - Joel Bakan (The Corporation)

  • Aaylsworth

    Disgusting.... and America wonders what's wrong with society. They ARE what's wrong with society.

  • DarylTJ

    In ancient days, people sacrificed their children on the alters of pagan gods.
    These days, children are sacrificed on the heinous alters of corporate greed and power frenzy.

    It beggars belief.

  • Demoorelizer

    Strange how they talk about trend setters and whats going to be popular then she takes a bunch of pictures with the freaks and losers that most of my generation (1991) detests.

  • templar2019

    The mass marketing of uniqueness has been done since Elvis talking to Dick Clark in the 50’s or Limp Bizkit talking to Carson Daly in 2010’s. I personally think teens are seeking an identity and they ache to be sold one. So in my opinion marketers have at it as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone have fun and make money!

    Like it or not this mass culture is America’s leading export around the world.

    Everybody likes to buy but nobody likes to be sold!

  • thatmorgangirl

    I wish I could find an actual review amongst all this masturbation...

  • Ava

    In the early 2000s this documentary forever changed my life at 15 in high school. It opened my eyes to the reality of advertising, mass media persuasion, and propaganda.
    Great Documentary! It's not too complex, yet not over-simplified.
    It doesn't pull any punches and is non-biased and honest.

    **It reveals how the identity you or others hold, might really not be your own, but instead the product of corporate psychological manipulation and programming.