Tracking teens and trends
The fact that teenagers are the target of elaborate corporate marketing schemes both aggressive and subliminal is no revelation. The process has been going on for years, whether the product being pushed is music, fast food, sneakers or soft drinks. In Branded, a fascinating and provocative study of modern-day consumerism and the teenager's role within it, writer Alissa Quart sheds light on the increasingly sophisticated modes of advertising being used to lure and influence teens. Many of the facts here are disturbing. While today's "branding" usually exploits teens' desires to sport designer clothes, see the hippest new films and play the latest trendy video games, there has also been a statistical upsurge in physical branding, including body-piercing, tattooing and cosmetic surgery (for the females), as well as the use of performance-enhancing drugs (for the males). Quart relies on interviews with advertisers and representative teens, offering a rather cynical scenario in which Madison Avenue strives to rope in its peer-pressurized prey at younger and younger ages, and the kids go right along with the program. Discussion generally centers on current pop culture films like Legally Blonde, teen literary sensations, skateboarder Tony Hawk, "logoism," even the bizarre emergence of pro-anorexia Web sites and the way in which advertisers either play into it or strive to create trends themselves. Quart also offers conclusive evidence of backlash, in which kids have been astute enough to discover as some of their ex-hippie parents once believed that money isn't everything, and clothes don't necessarily make the man. While Quart's study doesn't really offer any solutions to the problems at hand, it does effectively capture the almost-arcane realities of modern-day teenage life.