Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Persuaders, Cool-hunters and the Reptile Brain

I finished watching The Merchants of Cool. A few weeks ago, I had checked out The Persuaders, also narrated by Douglas Rushkoff and a Frontline documentary. Both of these are essential watching for anyone who's not much of a reader, and yet wants to step outside the consumer culture a bit and take a peek at those trying to pull the levers behind the curtain.

I was pleased as punch to see that Clotaire Rapaille made an appearance to talk about SUVs and the reptile brain in the Persuaders. He was the one who was quoted in High and Mighty, a scathing book about SUVs I enjoyed very much. What he says about Hummers is hilarious:

CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: My experience is that most of the time, people have no idea why they're doing what they're doing. They have no idea. So they're going to try to make up something that makes sense. Why do you need a Hummer to go shopping? "Well, you know, in case I need to go off road." Well, you live in Manhattan. Why do you need a four-wheel drive in Manhattan? "Well, you know, sometime I go out and I go in"-- I mean, this is-- you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This has nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do.

Merchants of Cool deals more with marketing to Generation Y, and talks about cool hunters and trying to market to kids who are (supposedly) resilient to mass marketing like never before. I say supposedly because although both Gen X and Gen Y may be cynical, I don't know. You see, I have what I think is a unique imprinting, as much of my childhood, I went WITHOUT television, yet lived in America, so I usually notice when I see the indoctrination of those who drink down culture, especially that which comes over the television. Ironic that I now work within the cable industry, but there you go.

For example, I went to see Shrek 3 this past weekend, and there were several Gen Y sitting behind us. I can actually remember when the part running up to a movie only had trailers. I remember being so pissed the first time I saw a commercial at a movie...I actually booed. So did others in the audience, so it must have been a first for them, too, or they were influenced by me, who knows. It was a Heinz commercial. Since then, it's progressed to where I think movies ought to be free now. Why? Consider all the product placement often WITHIN the movies these days, as well as static ads for local businesses intersprinkled with full motion ads running at the beginning - and the trailers often don't even start until after the scheduled time, one is getting just as much exposure to brands as one gets when flipping on cable or over-the-air stuff.

While I suffer through this crapola fest before the movie with a grin-and-bear it attitude (and later notice the sly product placement), the Gen Y'ers are actually actively engaged by it. They are talking about it, laughing at the little "plots" that these spots have, etc. I don't think marketing has to be as sneaky as all that, and I doubt that Gen Y is any less responsive to marketing in this way any more so than Gen X or sandwich or Baby Boomers or anyone else. Not as a group, anyway. And think of the superbowl - many actually ADMIT that they tune into it for the commercials. I'll never forget a moment in college when one of my housemates asked two of us why we muted the commercials. The other housemate and I just sort of froze and stared at him for a heartbeat or two, not really sure how to answer such an odd question. The other roommate actually WANTED to hear the commercials? Where to start with this guy? Both of us usually followed a pattern when watching television: watching a "main" program, then switching to a "secondary" one during the commercial break on the main program. If they had synchronized commercials, or there wasn't anything worthwhile, we'd bounce around other channels or mute commercials on the main one. This was pre-DVR days. I've had a Tivo since 2000, and I've found I like commercials even less as a result and almost never watch live television these days.

Anyway, the other housemate just answered the question like this - ", commercials are annoying! They are louder than the show, and they are all lies, to boot." To which we got an eye-roll and a head-shake from the other housemate - he thought *we* were the crazy ones - he wanted to hear the commercials, and that was that. I guess he didn't want to miss out on that "water-cooler talk" that people seem to find so important.

I wish Frontline would do some more similar documentaries, and delve into why people of all generations fall for so much stuff without asking WHY they do it. The SUV thing was touched on, but it really could go for a full show's treatment. It could be expanded into the selling of the "outdoor culture" - even for those that never set foot outside? I notice lots and lots of yuppies carrying around say, Nalgene bottles, (I call these Yuppie baby bottles) and wearing things like hiking boots and hopping into an SUV for their drive through suburbia to get home when most of these people don't do much outdoors.

Anyway enough rambling from me, I saw that Douglas Rushkoff (obviously another fan of Robert Anton Wilson) is offering a course on this sort of stuff (persuasion in media) at this fall, maybe I'll check it out and ask him some of this stuff then...

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