the merchants of cool - Best Documentary about marketing

The Merchants of Cool

About “The Merchants of Cool” – Documentary about Marketing and Advertising

The Merchants of Cool is a documentary by PBS Frontline broadcasted in 2001 on mass media and culture. This documentary explores the influence of media on youth – How youth relies on the media for their reference on what is cool. It shows how the culture of cool has transformed the youth into one of the most profitable consumers. So the main premise of “The Merchants of Cool” documentary is that today’s young generation is bound by media and not free to create their own authentic culture. Media Industry has been successful in understanding their hopes and desires, amplifying them and then selling it back to them.


This documentary lasts for 53 minutes and explores how the culture of cool evolved. Why it is one of the best documentaries about marketing and advertising? Well, It explains how the media companies look for the next thing as a trendsetter.

It starts with the introduction of the cool hunters Dee Dee Gordon and her partner Sharon Lee of Look-Look and their contribution to the culture of cool. Then it explains the two-step theory of communication put forwarded by Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz. 

It then follows the story of MTV. It explains the efforts of MTV made in order to understand the young generation and how it became the biggest propagators of cool in the United States.

This documentary is created around a story that Marketer study teens to understand what is cool and then they amplify it and sell it back to them via media that is controlled by fewer hands. And this process has built the culture which is not authentic and not created by teens but marketers.

Quotes from the documentary

“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.”

“What this system does is it closely studies the young, keeps them under constant surveillance to figure out what will push their buttons,” says media critic Mark Crispin Miller. “And it blares it back at them relentlessly and everywhere.”

“It’s one enclosed feedback loop,” Rushkoff says. “Kids’ culture and media culture are now one and the same, and it becomes impossible to tell which came first–the anger or the marketing of the anger.”

Interested in learning more? 

What teen thinks?

Some Themes in This Report
The symbiotic relationship; the media giants; what’s this doing to kids?

With media executives, market researchers, cultural critics

Media Giants
What do these powerhouses control?

Join the Discussion

Visit Frontline for more details.

Frontline - The Merchants of Cool
Frontline – The Merchants of Cool
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Published by

Manoj Kumar

A thoughtful analytical marketer

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