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Three videos: youth marketing, growing up online, and tying it all together

Two of my favorite sources of web video content are the PBS documentary series Frontline and the unparalleled TED conference videos.

Frontline Logo

This morning, I found myself watching a Frontline report from 2001 called “The Merchants of Cool” about marketing to youth and the beginnings of guerilla marketing.  It’s a great look inside the big media marketing machine and it raises interesting questions about the impact of marketing on culture. Filmmaker Douglas Rushkoff argues convincingly that as marketers work harder and harder to figure out what is authentically “cool,” they reach further and further into youth culture and drive trend-setting teens to innovate faster and faster to try to remain authentic. It’s a vicious cycle in search of authenticity – a cycle that is accelerating.

In 2008, Frontline released another documentary, “Growing up Online” about the ways today’s youth are using the Internet to define and express their lives. For those of us closely following social media, there are no earth-shattering observations in the Frontline piece, but its definitely worth watching.


I think the two documentaries are connected:

  • The first one (from 2001) argues that authenticity is getting harder and harder to find as major brands crowd into the lives of youth.
  • The second one (from 2008) argues that the social web (and user generated content more generally) are creating new spaces where youth can express themselves – authentically. In a sense, the Internet is now leveling the playing field that corporate America once seemed to dominate.

Ted Logo 

This brings me to a video clip from TED: Joseph Pine’s great talk on what consumers want. It’s a great talk, and the focus is on authenticity. Pines argues that marketers need to understand (1) whether or not their product is truly authentic and (2) whether or not their product delivers what it promises. “To thine own self be truth,” he argues.

Social networks and UGC can allow users to express themselves authentically and can allow truly authentic brand evangelists to emerge. This matters to all of us, but it matters perhaps most to children and teens. Their resources and ability to express themselves can be limited by lack of money, driver’s licenses, and admittance to nightclubs – but online they are truly equal citizens.

Brands are already embracing this new reality. We’ve seen the beginning of this trend with things like Proctor & Gamble’s Being Girl website (described in this post), and we’ll see lots more of it. It’s been extensively covered by two Forrester analysts in this book and this press release with several examples of this trend in action.

This is why I’m excited by start-ups that provide a forum for users to turn into authentic evangelists. Companies like Zlio, for example, lower the barriers to authentic evangelism by letting users create their own stores,such as this user-generated sunglasses boutique.

Still confused by all the pursuit of authenticity and coolness? Just ask this guy:

The Fonz