The documentary advertisers assume that everyone has a need to be cool. Companies and advertisers believe we as a society, especially young people, feel the need to fit in and be a part of the cutting edge of a trend. Companies spend millions of dollars searching for “the look.” Then based on a small sampling they try to convince everyone that this is the next big thing. It is a chicken or the egg issue. Which came first the cool look or being cool in the cool look?
The problem in developing and maintaining the market place culture is that, with teens, it is constantly changing. I was reminded at times of The Beatles movie, “A Hard Day’s Night.” In the film a market researcher grabs George Harrison, not knowing he is a Beatle, and begins to show him “what’s hip” and “what he’ll want to be wearing in two weeks.” The researcher calls his model, Susan, the “resident teenager” and becomes upset when Harrison calls her a bore and tells him the guys, “turn the sound down and say rude things about her.” It was an example of adults trying to make the latest teen trend.
Similarly in “The Merchants of Cool,” Sprite attempted to make their “uncool” drink cool by using a famous spokesperson to make fun of the famous spokesperson commercial. While at first it worked, the kids finally caught on to the fact they were not part of the inside joke, but the inside joke. It also didn’t help with the massive cross promotions with MTV and various musical artists. The cool channel began to channel the old advertising executives that the teens didn’t find cool or trust.
The value of marketing to teenagers is not new. In fact given today’s market place a good to great company must find a way to tap into this revenue source. What is new though is the amount of advertising exclusively focusing on the age group. In the Sixties teens didn’t have much disposable income, today teens have guilt income. Guilt income flows to today’s teens because the parents feel guilty because they have to work, don’t want to spend time, or don’t know how to spend time with their teens, or feel guilty because their teen isn’t keeping up with his or her friends in owning the latest gadget.
Perhaps this is a consumer “Hedgehog” effect. The consumer is passionate about being cool, “What are you deeply passionate about” (Collins 118), and cannot be cool without the latest Nike shoes, “The key is to understand what your organization can be the best in the world at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at” (118) and finally what drives this individuals need to be cool, “What drives your economic engine” (118). So, just as the Hedgeog Concept drives a good to great company; the Hedgehog Effect can drive the uncool to cool. This may be what is driving advertisers to push the idea of cool to the great unwashed masses.
Never before have companies had the technology to get their messages out. Today the television is on twenty-four, seven. Almost everyone owns a computer and with that the ability to belong to numerous social networks. The constant communication between people via Twitter or any of a number of iPhone applications keeps everyone tuned in to what is going on. There are advertisements at movie theatre, during the movies with creative product placement, and even on the DVDs you rent or purchase. Want to know the latest trend or hot product, connect to the internet.
As Jim Collins points out in Chapter Eight, “The good to great companies use technology as an accelerator of momentum, not the creator of it” (162). Given how technology is constantly changing how we live and communicate, a company has to know which types of technology will be of benefit to them. Just because something is “new and improved” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better. A known entity that can continue to move the company forward is better than risking the growth of a company by hoping the latest fad will create momentum.
The problem with much of today’s society is that we want to be cool, regardless of our age. Scientific advances and changes in lifestyles are keeping people alive longer, often with a better quality of life than previous generations. While on the face of it, this may not seem to be a problem, but in the way that the marketplace reacts to this change has created changes in the types of products sold and how they are advertised.
We are so use to being bombarded with thirty second commercial spots that our attention spans are such that we expect everything to be presented to us in nice short quips and stories. We have lost our ability to focus for more than thirty seconds at a time. It seems that advertising
has created the “bumper sticker mentality’ or “sound bite response.” Is this lack of patience on the television in some small part responsible for our want for instant gratification and road rage?
There is a need to be constantly entertained and because of this advertising has become art. If we were to look at the amount of money spent in making and broadcasting just during the Super Bowl it is fairly obvious that advertising is almost a mini movie making industry. Just like the movies of today, our commercials focus on sex and, in the case of video games, violence. Consumers almost prefer being entertained as opposed to informed; this could also be a commentary on today’s news channels.
Marcel Danesi discusses how art is indistinguishable from life (177) and how through stories we can relate to one another. We tell stories to get our ideas across and, sometimes, influence people to come to our way of thinking. Stories can be a shared experience where, while I was not there, I can relate to what happened as something similar once happened to me.
In marketplace communications, stories are used to get us to buy a product or service. We may see a story of a harried housewife preparing for a family visit, and she is using a product that not only cleans the floor, but ceiling fans as well. She manages to get everything set just as her parents, in-laws, cousins and Aunt Bess ring the doorbell. While our experience may be slightly different, we understand the hassle of cleaning and getting ready for a family visit. Therefore, I may buy this magical product to make my life easier. That is beauty of advertising. We all strive to be cool, or own the cool product. Even as we age, we let the marketplace dictate what it is we need, whether we want it or not.
As we become more connected we need to become aware that, “Google is changing our societies, our lives, our relationships, our worldviews, probably even our brains in ways we can only begin to calculate” (Jarvis 231). The marketplace in an attempt to get us to purchase their product or service has aimed towards our vanity, our sexual appetites and our need to belong to a group. Instead of elevating our view of society advertisers have rushed to the bottom, presenting our young people as sex hungry brats and demeaning women, and present men as incompetent boobs.
The internet can now present these images, unfiltered, around the clock to anyone who has an internet connection. Much like when television was first introduced as an educational resource, the internet has been heralded in much the same fashion. Yes both can be used for positive purposes, yet the advertisers in marketplace diminish the positive possibilities.
In time we may be living in Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report” world, where advertisers can gear their commercial directly to the individual. One day as we walk through the mall we too might experience, as Tom Cruise did, store fronts calling out to us by name, 3-D ads directly changing commercials to suggest products we might be interested in and, of course, stopping crimes before they happen.
Regardless of where technology and advertising take us, ultimately it is our responsibility to see that used to improve our lives. There was a time when corporate leaders had an interest in preserving social standards, and offer some inferred moral leadership. Companies would not sell certain products to teens, or young people, they would have a standard of advertising that while it wasn’t Shakespeare, spoke to the common decency of a community. Today, it seems, companies rush to the lowest common denominator to advertise and sell product. While it is easy to be satisfied with good, it benefits us all when we strive for great.
Collins, James. Good to Great. New York: HaperCollins, 2001.
Danesi, Marcel. Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things.
NewYork: Palgrave MacMillan, 1999.
Jarvis, Jeff. What Would Google Do? New York: HarperCollins, 2009.