The Merchants of Cool - a 53 minutes PBS Video on Coolhunting

To watch the video go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/

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.

But marketing to teens isn't as easy as it sounds. Marketers have to find a way to seem real: true to the lives and attitudes of teenagers; in short, to become cool themselves. To that end, they search out the next cool thing and have adopted an almost anthropological approach to studying teens and analyzing their every move as if they were animals in the wild.

Take MTV. Long considered to be the arbiter of teen cool, the late 1990s saw MTV's ratings on the wane. To counter the slide, MTV embarked on a major teen research campaign, the hallmark of which was its "ethnography study"-- visiting teens' homes to view first hand their lives, interests and ask some quite personal questions.

But what lessons do MTV and other companies draw from this exhaustive and expensive study of teenagers' lives? Does it result in a more nuanced portrait of the American teen? In "The Merchants of Cool," FRONTLINE introduces viewers to the "mook" and the "midriff" -- the stock characters that MTV and others have resorted to in order to hook the teen consumer.

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