The New Trendspotter: You
A long time ago, in the 90s, some savvy entrepreneurs figured out that big companies like Coca-Cola and Nike wanted desperately to know what was cool with the kids in order to stay one step ahead of a culture increasingly at odds with mainstream marketing. Thus the trendspotting revolution launched to prominence companies like Look Look, the Zandl Group, Trendcentral, and many others all dedicated to acting as middlemen between street culture and the marketing departments of corporate America.
In the interest of parity, most trend consultancies invited the youth and cultural niches they ‘represented’ to speak on their own behalves, addressing the movements of culture in their own words. For example, Look Look’s eponymous magazine promised aspiring young photographers and artists an opportunity to publish their work— ostensibly for their peers—which could then be repackaged as a value-added consulting offering for Look Look’s clients. Or the Intelligence Group’s Trend School showcased young early-adopters speaking on panels about their hyper-connected lives. In essence, trendspotters offered a clever bargain; a platform for youth expression in exchange for youth’s bloodhound sense for the next big thing.
But fast forward a decade and a funny thing has happened: in offering such a bargain, trendspotters have largely made themselves obsolete. Squeezed by the twin forces of fickle marketing budgets and an ever-more creatively empowered youth, trendspotters have shifted their efforts. No longer is it enough to simply cull insights from counterculture, trendspotting’s latest trick is to create online venues for those in the know to announce new trends of their own volition. Sites like BuzzFeed, Trendrr and Trendpedia automate the tracking of buzz, while sites like Edopter and Trend Hunter offer game-like social incentives for participation. The new trendspotting is a streamlined system for certain, but one that cuts out the middleman: the trendspotters themselves.
Is this such a bad thing? Probably not. At their worst, trendspotting and cool-hunting have been lambasted as cultural ambulance chasing, commodifying authenticity for corporate enrichment. But the simple fact that the quote-unquote cool-kids are ready, willing, and able to volunteer the particulars of their lives in exchange for internet-popularity undercuts the criticism. Rather, it suggests a cyclical relationship between the makers of marketing and the consumers of marketing: as much as people lament the commodification of their lives, many are actively willing to participate with little compensation beyond the nebulous personal satisfaction of ‘being the first’ to know.
It makes you wonder: does the marketing that permeates our lives depend on our willingness to market ourselves? –John