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Monday, June 05, 2006

The end of the cool hunter?

Grant McCracken on the demise of cool hunting (

Who killed the cool hunter? I think contemporary culture did. It got more complicated, in the process outstripping the cognitive abilities of even those who claimed guru status. And the knowledge of contemporary culture became more distributed. Increasingly, even the corporation had a clue.

Useful in their brief moment, cool hunters would eventually be remaindered by historical forces beyond their control. Those who live by the trend, apparently also die by it. And somehow I think that's fair. Surely contemporary culture is too interesting, important and difficult to be represented by catching phrases, exclamatory declarations and a haughty self importance. Cool hunters, you are now removed from fashion.

I suspect McCracken, who is an ethnographer, may have taken just a small amount of personal satisfaction in pronouncing the "end" of a competing discipline (no, they are not the same, but both compete for corporate attention and dollars). I do think he is right though. The rockstar personas of the Faith Popcorns tended to overshadow any real or at least consistent success.

We all delighted in the well-crafted phrases (myself included) designed to capture the zeitgeist of the moment. Or maybe that was the issue. I think in too many cases, cool hunters attempted to ascribe a zeitgeist to what were simply unpredictable fads and fancies with no deeper cultural meaning. When I see these phrases now, they have a Powerpoint-ready triteness to them, even when on the odd occasion, they are actually attached to real insight.


AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...

"Cool hunting" just became democratized (like most other products and info).

I think something more than the "cool hunter" has died, it seems that a bigger nemesis - the over-priced, pretentious, ego-centric consultant is dying, including "cool hunters" clad in their costume Bapes and expensive denim.

What is also dying is the outrageous budgets for a mystical blackbox/secret sauce. The first thing to go during tighter economies is the staff psychics (ask Michael Jackson and MC Hammer). Royal psychics stroking the king's ego are staffed when finances are flush. So don't be surprised if they make a comeback when times get better. It may be premature to assume that the kings of the castles learned any lesson whatsoever from their fleecing...magicians just change names and sell the same crystal ballisms.

But in all fairness, "cool-hunters" shouldn't be faulted for making clients feel silly for not knowing of any culture beyond their own individual experience (particularly when said client is intent on selling something to these cultures)...nor should "cool-hunters" be faulted cuz clients fell for the party invites amongst the beautiful people.

They should be faulted for blowing an opportunity to build with clients, and they should be faulted for their undue attention to the costumes, parties, and wizardry while neglecting to walk the cultural insights all the way to an actionable plan for brands.

And if "cool-hunting" means taking a look at where people's heads are at today so that we may aliign brand opportunities tomorrow, I think it is still a valid and worthy endeavor for us to do (whatever title everyone wants to call it).

Brands still need information about people - from sources other than a telephone poll.

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