March 23rd 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The US steel decision

Ansett's collapse highlights failure of deregulation

Government's currency gamble goes bad

Straws in the Wind: All you need is love / What's in a name?

NSW Anglican Bishops support stem cell research ... but not at the cost of human life

Media: Courageously un-PC / Sudden 'enthusiasm' for Crean

Captive market (letter)

Misdirected (letter)

US steel (letter)

Show trials (letter)

Adult stem cells: the better option

Comment: Enron's collapse - the net widens

ASIA: How should the West respond to the terrorist threat?

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Captive market (letter)

by Simon de Bruyn

News Weekly, March 23, 2002


Bill Muehlenberg discussed the "merchants of cool" in terms of the corporate media exploitation of the American youth market (News Weekly, March 9). One example is the "rage rock" phenomenon; the latest music genre to influence the buying habits of American teens, particularly young males.

This music, performed by bands such as Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine, fuses a multitude of genres to create a discordant chorus of teen angst and anger.

The prevalence of such a trend is not all that surprising, as the trend itself is a cyclic one - fuelled by the same raw emotions and anti-establishment ideas as (were) the punk and grunge music genres of the 1970s and 1990s respectively. And now the cycle has come around again.

The trend has been recycled and modified - at a minimal cost - and sold back to the youth demographic at $30 a pop. And if the audience snaps it up, there is a complete image that goes with the music: pre-prepared and waiting in the wings of the corporate theatre.

But the market potential for youth-oriented products changes quickly, as one would expect from a market defined by 'cool'; governed by the whims and increasingly brief attention spans of its target audience. The cycles of trends are moving quicker. Not surprisingly, given the amount of advertising that they are exposed to daily, teenagers have become more resilient to more traditional forms of advertising.

Market leaders such as MTV, Coca-Cola Amatil and McDonalds as well as smaller and niche-focused companies have been forced to change their tactics in order to re-capture the attention of the youth demographic.

This is where much of the danger lies. Just as young people have become media savvy, so too have the marketers become "youth savvy", and now it seems they're always one step ahead of the ever-growing market.

Through relentless research, countless interviews and observation, these youth-oriented companies continually know what can be sold as "cool". As with the growth of "rage rock" in the US, the marketers are learning to predict the 'next big thing'; often taking a rough cut from a youth subculture, polishing it and selling it back as mainstream.

They are becoming the purveyors of cool, and are making large amounts of money doing so. And even the most cynical teenagers seem unaware.

All the while, standards are being drawn further down into the mire. Young children are now part of the marketable mass and often have access to various forms of advertising influence, the greatest of which is probably the school playground. And 'cool' rules school.

Realising the potential of this, some companies have begun to directly focus their advertising on this (now marketable) demographic. Such relentless pursuit of the corporate dollar not only exploits the naiveté of this audience, but does so with complete disregard for the consequences.

So in their race towards profit and increased market share, the 'merchants of cool' are forever pushing societal standards lower into the mire.

They seem intent on barrelling forward in their competitiveness, relentlessly chasing the lucrative youth demographic and in doing so are engaging in a "race to the bottom" with consequences yet unseen.

Young consumers need to be made aware before they are too long exposed to the debasing content and effects of such marketing. But this task is not easy.

There tends to be a general cynicism held by young people towards correction, ironically due to years and years of mass-media saturation and marketing campaigns that have promoted 'the good' to be found in their products.

And always a step ahead, the marketers have already tapped into this youth cynicism, such as the Sprite 'Image is Nothing, Thirst is Everything' campaign. But however it is done, something needs to be started. Otherwise the cycles will just become faster, the next generation will become the next marketable audience and we will come ever closer to hitting bottom.

Simon de Bruyn,
Glen Waverley, Vic

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