Consumerism has defined 21st century American culture. With New York Fashion Week Spring 2005 ending just last month, new color schemes and trendy clothing have been packaged and sent to the masses. Many consumers believe that trends and colors become “cool” by fluke when, in fact, thousands of dollars are spent on researching and marketing these trends every year.
There are agencies that scour and survey thousands of teenagers and young adults to find out what they are using, thinking and gravitating toward. As unlikely as it may seem, analysts and research companies had already predicted the new trends for 2005 long before they hit the market.
Look-Look, a trend forecasting company based in Hollywood, Calif., predicts and analyzes trends in almost every industry. The company has catered to clients like Nike, Coca-Cola and Virgin Mobile USA. Trend-forecasting companies like Look-Look are vast networks of test-shoppers who respond to survey results designed by their client company.
The reports generated by these agencies, however, are not available to regular consumers. And even if they were, we would hardly be able to afford them. At $15,000 per report, we’d be better off putting that much toward a down payment for a car or a house. So are we consumers really defining this culture or is it just an illusion? Is fashion simply decided by a bunch of trend-predicting gurus and pundits who are steering our culture according to their whims?
While it is easy to believe that in its capitalistic pursuits America is making a business of fabricating cultures, a little behind the scenes digging proves that business is indeed largely representative of America’s consumers and its desires.
A few months back I filled out a form online and became a member of the Look-Look agency. My first assignment was to be a part of a focus group that was testing an ad-campaign for a condom company. Our opinions and ideas were carefully tabulated and we filled out several surveys. Though I’m not a big fan of filling out forms, for $75 I did 50 of them.
Several months later, when the new ad campaign for the condom was released, I was surprised to see how it adhered to my general responses in the survey. To realize that I was part of a campaign that would reach millions of other consumers initially spooked me out, but that’s when it hit me: we consumers are really shaping our culture according to our tastes.
Big corporations rely on trend-analysis experts for feedback for their products before launching them to the public. Like the focus group testing I participated in, these agencies conduct mass surveys, product testing and more recently have even ventured into keeping up with the technological advances by using blogs, videotapes and photography as a tool to understanding consumers.
According to a New York Times article, Zandl Group, a small trend-analysis shop based in Manhattan, charges $15,000 a year for their bimonthly publication called the Hot Sheet. Clients like General Motors and Disney subscribe to this report which informs them about what’s hot and what’s not among youth. But even though regular consumers like us don’t have access to these reports, it is heartening to know that we are well represented in these reports because if it weren’t for consumer input from the beginning, these reports wouldn’t exist.
Reports are based on intense research mostly derived from surveys and interviews with consumers from all over, and they help corporations decide on how best to make their products more consumer-friendly. Whether it is price, color, size, weight or even its name, many corporations go to great lengths to cater products to please consumer tastes. And it wouldn’t be possible if not for research and trend-analysis companies. The numerous surveys, response forms and customer service questionnaires we fill out every year eventually work to provide us with better services.
One reason American companies are so successful is because they make a business of listening to their consumers. After all, we are still a No. 1 priority for every business and service available.
Jinal Shah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.