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Communication & Media Speaker Series

Cool Hunting by Devon Powers

In March 1997, the New Yorker published “The Coolhunt.” Written by a then-unknown reporter named Malcolm Gladwell, the piece identified a new phenomenon within market research involving young scouts who combed the world’s cultural hotspots to discover emerging trends. To Gladwell, the growth cool hunting signaled the reversal of longstanding rules about cultural influence: rather than trickle down from above, “cool” bubbled up from below. Only through tapping into these new tastemakers—found on inner city basketball courts and skate parks, in places like East L.A. and the South Bronx—could companies ever hope to keep pace with youthful demographics and stay ahead of the competition.

This talk explores the rise and fall of cool hunting between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. Rather than see cool hunting as a marketing fad, I argue that it is part of a longer history of corporate attempts to forecast, anticipate, and marketize the cultural future. Taking advantage of contemporary technological, intellectual, and cultural developments, cool hunting harnessed “cool” to make the terrain of youth culture more legible and trackable. Cool hunting likewise revealed a growing consensus—shared among marketers, academics, and cultural critics alike—that “subcultures,” broadly understood, were profitable target markets and icons of inspirational resistance. My talk will unravel the tensions, assumptions, and implications inherent within cool hunting, and consider what broader lessons it may teach about influence, taste, and cultural prediction.
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When and Where

Map Rackham Graduate School (Horace H.) - West Conference Room

October 2017

4:00pm - 5:30pm

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