Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Merchants of Cool

The methods of marketing, advertising, and branding have changed over time. The basic concept remains the same; promote your product to gain the most profits. However, the techniques and goals of the marketers on their target audiences have changed radically. The traditional way to market an item was to show its value and why it should be bought over its competitors. However, society has caught on to conventional marketing schemes, leaving the audiences disillusioned and the tactics no longer effective. Marketers now have to try to use psychological approaches to marketing to reach audiences on a subconscious level. These techniques have proven to be widely successful. However, marketers are not only shaping the brands, but an entire culture, making many wonder what the future will hold with the continuation of modern marketing.

Branding is the way marketers develop descriptive attributes to associate with their product. There are a number of modern techniques they can use to develop this idea of branding, or creating a culture around a product. Neuromarketing is a new form of marketing that studies the brain and why consumers make the choices they do, whether they are conscience of it or not. This form of marketing reaches the cognitive level to determine a consumer’s preference. Emotional branding is a branding technique that makes the consumers have an emotional attachment to the product. It is not just something they like, but something they love. Narrowcasting, cool hunting, and product placement are just a few other examples of ways in which marketers try to appeal to audiences. They try to discover what is “cool” and then feed it to the masses.

The goal of marketers is to know what the next “big thing” is, or what is “cool.” Teens are often the most sought after audience and also the most unpredictable. Therefore, marketers follow teen trends and use different marketing techniques to reach them. Cornerstone Marketing uses under the radar marketing to understand what teens think is cool. Their workers go to parties and subtly promote their product, or enter chat rooms to see what the new trends are. This kind of marketing is not overt so the teenagers aren’t aware that something is being sold to them. Another example was a strategy used by Sprite. Instead of using a traditional commercial segment to advertise their soda, Sprite partnered with MTV to host an MTV televised concert and party with Sprite products used. In this way, Sprite is seen as cool because the MTV audience sees fellow teens on television drinking it.

Television has developed cultural characters to appeal to younger age groups. Men are perceived as crude, rude, loud and aggressive. Shows such as the Tom Green Show, Jackass, and South Park perpetuate these stereotypes. Women are viewed as premature adults and are consumed by appearance. They are proud to reveal their midriff and flaunt their sexuality, even if they are too young to understand it. Fruit of the Loom often seeks models as young as 13 who embody sophistication. These images are often not representative of the teenagers. However, teens are trying to become these icons.

The consequences of these marketing tactics are a culture where TV and brand icons begin to blur with reality. Audiences are receptive of the images and are feeding them back by embodying them. They are becoming what the marketers were selling to them. Some teens and older audiences fight the images of marketers by influencing counter cultural movements, such as non traditional looks or music. Perhaps in time, more teens will catch on to these new marketing schemes and the counter cultural audience will grow. This will pose a new challenge to marketers, to have to reach the teens at a different level and appeal to them in different ways, and the cycle will be never ending.

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