Youth culture’s whirlwind nature spells a heady challenge for anyone whose business depends on reading the minds of the 14-to-30-year-old set.
The traditionally relied-upon quarterly and monthly trend reports are often dated by the time they’re published, leaving marketers scrambling for current information.
DeeDee Gordon and Sharon Lee, founders of Hollywood-based Look-Look have turned to the Internet as a means of obtaining the fastest and most precise research and analysis on the youth market.
The pair met at their former employer, Lambesis, where they created the popular trend tome the L-Report. Prior to that, Lee, 33, was involved in strategic planning and client services for advertising agencies; Gordon, 31, started in retail before branching into research, youth trends and product development.
Although the two are mum about Look-Look’s clients, they include major and even Fortune 500 firms from the entertainment, automotive, financial, fashion and beauty worlds. (At press time, subscription rates were being reworked and were therefore unavailable.)
What companies look to Gordon and Lee for is the hard data they collect via their Web site, look-look.com. Some 10,000 respondents answer multi-subject questionnaires and surveys that can track specific brands, trends — even topical issues.
Results are then organized into several categories: fashion, entertainment, technology, activities, eating and drinking, health and beauty, mood (how they feel about life) and spirituality.
Subscribers may scroll through the massive archive of digital images snapped by Look-Look’s international posse of trend hunters, and download charts and graphs that instantly provide analysis on a given topic to use in company presentations. And instead of taking months, as conventional, on-paper surveys do, Look-Look offers turnaround times of weeks or even days.
As for the young contributors, they are rewarded with points that can be traded for cash or high tech treasures such as digital cameras. Gordon and Lee are quick to note their recruits take part in the surveys for more than just phat fortunes. “We’ll meet a kid in a city and find they have a lot to say about what’s going on,” said Lee.
Further setting Look-Look apart are their research procedures. “Methodology is crucial, especially the quantity and quality of the sample. We can take a sample of 300 or of thousands,” boasted Lee. “That’s up to Gallup standards.”
Look for unusual, unexpected combinations. In fashion, young people continue to be inventive, daring and impulsive, going against the mass-market grain. Educated by magazines and the Internet, they call on many different trends and eras to create their own look, even adopting the fashion trade lexicon, as one Look-Look respondent did when she reported, “I’m really into thrift-store retro, and I really like the mix of Seventies clothes with an Eighties influence.”
Other signs of cross-pollination:
Hip-hop artists making rock music (Rappers Mos Def’s forming a rock band called Jack Johnson; The Roots performing Nirvana covers).
Converging technology, such as the cell phone/mp3 player/camera.
Hybrid spaces, such as art galleries combined with clothing stores (Such as Alife in NYC, Xtra Large and Kbond in L.A. and Colette in Paris).
A continuing key trend with young people who are living a life constantly on the go: their cell phones, beepers, gadgets and food and beverage products support a mobile lifestyle. Popular items are compact, portable, wearable, functional, durable and versatile.
Wearable technology, such as the watch/camera.
Instant messaging, wireless communication, Ipod, cheaper PDAs.
Lightweight, collapsible furniture.
The Segway scooter.
The ESL or Extended Shelf Life on products like soy milk makes for greater portability; the return of military style MREs (meals ready-to-eat).
The availability and wide use of e-mail, chat, BlackBerry, cell phones and other related technologies have fostered a culture where young people cultivate multiple variations on their personalities. And there’s plenty of role models for role-playing coming out of pop culture, fashion and beauty. Take Madonna and Britney Spears, whose careers are shaped by the various personas they cultivate through their hair, makeup and wardrobe choices.
Teens use different screen names, such as “gothgirl” for browsing music sites and “heather123” for making online diary entries.
The popularity of stores such as Hot Topic, which sell clothes to create specific, often extreme looks (goth, rocker, punk and so on).
Young people with extremely varied interests — they listen to Britney Spears one moment, Marilyn Manson the next.
ART FOR THE MASSES
There’s an increasing demand for, and supply of, art that is accessible and affordable. Artists and architects are increasingly targeting the masses. A prime example: Architect Michael Graves’s tabletop designs for Target. Art is delivered in ways that kids can afford: figurines, T-shirts, posters.
Designer architects are redesigning public schools.
Collectibles are being created by graffiti and graphic artists like KAWS, Bathing Ape and Mark Gonzales.
Japanese pop culture painters like Yoshitomo Nara designing T-shirts that are sold at Giant Robot (giantrobot.com) in Los Angeles and Takashimaya in NYC.
Artists like Shepard Fairey and Bathing Ape are redesigning cans for Pepsi and Mountain Dew in Japan.
Galleries are showing everyday objects as art, such as retro, hand-held video games displayed in plastic.
Art vending machines are seen in New York, Houston and Washington selling wood blocks painted by rising artists for $5.
GLASS HALF FULL: The New Positivity
Youth culture is embracing a new positivity, leaving irony, sarcasm and cynicism behind. Young people want to be optimistic and make a difference. They enjoy having heroes and readily volunteer their time and money. Acceptance and tolerance are in; social differences like race and sexual orientation are less important.
The fast-growing popularity of Christian alt-rock bands, including Creed and POD.
Reality TV shows with a potentially positive spin, such as WB’s Popstars (a chronicle of the making of a pop band), HBO’s Project Greenlight (showing an aspiring filmmaker at work) and the new NBC reality show based on the Seventies TV series “Fantasy Island.”
Hairstyle and makeup trends that are natural looking, not overly processed or overdone.
The DIY trend continues to be strong because it’s affordable, creative and personal. Young people make clothing, photos, digital films and custom CDs for themselves and as gifts. Advances in digital cameras and editing software make it easy and affordable to create new-media works. Craft hobbies, like knitting and crocheting, are catching on. The fashion industry is embracing handmade-looking, one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories. At home, young people are embellishing their own wardrobes with trims and funky add-ons.
Young people are getting into the kitchen like never before: take Clare Crespo (yummyfun.com), the quirky, 30ish Martha Stewart, and her new cookbook, to be published by Hyperion in 2002.
Teens adding designs such as artistic details to clothing and accessories, studs, spray painting and crazy embroidering.
The preponderance of teen bands, people burning and mixing their own CDs.