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Business Ethics in “Merchants of Cool” Documentary


It should be noted that the video “Merchants of Cool” is a vivid example of the way media and large corporations can use sensitive population groups to achieve their main aim, which is to earn as much money as possible. The movie explicitly shows how young adults are used and gradually brainwashed into purchasing something that, in fact, is not necessary for them. Moreover, it identifies the influence of trendsetters and the way such people can impose false values on others. The purpose of this paper is to provide explanations and arguments to support the position that selling and marketing popular culture have become unethical.

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Points About Cool Hunting

In general, merchants of cool are the large-scale corporations and their representatives that intend to market popular culture to the youngest generation. They direct the flow of what should be considered cool and change trends rapidly to promote a new tendency while stressing that the previous one has already become inappropriate. In their turn, cool hunters are those individuals who are young enough and who used to be popular at educational and social institutions; their role is to investigate the emerging trends among young adults using those individuals who are popular at school or in the community (Organik 1, 2017).

The purpose of such activities is to specify the emerging trends using popular persons and sell these tendencies to those who have less appreciation from others so that the latter category feels more engaged. Cool hunters are essential in this trend selling the business as such people help corporations to market their products the first and maintain their leadership position to be able to continue making immense profits (Quart, 2017). Thus, popular teenagers reveal the next trend-to be so that merchants could sell it to the rest of the youth.

Unethical Business Conduct

Interestingly, marketers resort to various techniques and methods to achieve their aims. It should be stressed that the US corporations have selected youth as their targeted audience due to a number of reasons. Young adults possess money, and they are willing to spend it since they, as a rule, do not comprehend the efforts needed to make money. Apart from that, the American younger generation represents the biggest demographic group, which explains the reasons why it is the most studied generation (Organik 1, 2017).

These factors present an unsurpassed opportunity for marketers and corporations; therefore, they resort to any means to sell commodities to this population sample. According to the movie, by the age of 18, a young person is exposed to more than 10 million ads, which persuade them to buy certain goods. Cool hunters document everything that is connected to the lifestyle of American teenagers, select an emerging trend, and then brainwash sensitive children into buying their product. Importantly, it was mentioned in the movie that as soon as a tendency becomes corporate, it is no longer trendy, which makes this process of cool hunting continuous (Organik 1, 2017).

Apart from imposing standards on psychologically immature persons, media and marketers promote the values that affect how young people think and transform certain aspects of their life the way that would be convenient for corporations (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2015). The two stereotypical portrayals, which are a “mook” and a “midriff,” exhibit these distortions to the fullest degree. In particular, these two images have been injected into teenagers’ heads artificially through the promotion of sexuality and impudent behavior exhibited in movies, shows, commercials, and other sources of trends (Organik 1, 2017).

Young males are taught to be fun-loving and shameless, while the trends targeting young women encourage them to embrace their sexuality and consider it their main tool and source of influence. These two trends affect the way young people perceive the world around them and the others as well; they aspire to become like this to be able to integrate into society successfully. To achieve this goal, large corporations intelligently select the materials to be exhibited so that they continue sparking the interests of youth, which provides a steady platform for marketers to push their trends uninterruptedly.

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The vicious circle is also supported by the feedback loop. According to the movie, media outlets collect data about younger generations and display trends based on this information in multiple programs, videos, ads, and so on (Quart, 2017).

After this information is translated to teens, they start imitating it. Therefore, this tendency is similar to the theory of discourse in which the world translates certain values to people while people transmit their perceptions to the world (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2015). Thus, it can be assumed that media reflect the way teenagers perceive the world while teenagers start interpreting the world as imposed by pop culture.

The Meaning of Values Promoted by Corporations

The values promoted by corporations and conglomerations are false, artificial, and superficial. The images sold to younger generations are unhealthy since they do not encourage teenagers to strive for greater aims but persuade them into believing that sexuality and fame are the two aspects that can give meaning to their lives (Organik 1, 2017).

Instead of encouraging common values, media and pop culture feed young individuals with the idea that trends, clothes, and certain behavior can make them meaningful to others, and they ignore any other values so that teenagers do not strive for contributing to society or developing their identity (Quart, 2017). Such unrealistic representations of themselves and the world push youth to continue purchasing goods and employing certain behavior to avoid being excluded from society.

Therefore, referring to the statements provided above, it could be assumed that the method of cool hunting should be considered exploitation. Media and mass culture do not intend to support teenagers or provide them with the things that can contribute to their well-being but the reverse – make use of immature individuals to make profits (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2015). However, in the long term, such business decisions affect the entire population by imposing false and superficial values. Cool hunters are a tool of companies to boost their profits, and they ignore an understanding that young adults receive a false outlook on the way they should perceive themselves and others as well.

Concluding Points

Thus, it can be concluded that severe ethical concerns arise in terms of the cool hunting method. It is a powerful youth marketing practice that enables companies to meet their goals and earn profits through the use of teenagers as both a source of information for future decisions and a sales market. Nevertheless, the effects of such marketing practices are long term, and they threaten the values that should be raised in children since corporations replace meaningful ideas with superficial substitutes, which proves the position that cool hunting is unethical at its core.


Jowett, G. S., & O’Donnell, V. (2015). Propaganda & persuasion (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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Organik 1. (2017). PBS frontline – The merchants of cool – 2001. Web.

Quart, A. (2017). Faking ‘wokeness’: How advertising targets millennial liberals for profit. The Guardian. Web.

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