Coolhunting: Social Media is Watching You

Coolhunting was born thanks to the rise of the so-called cool culture. It relies heavily on social media to peripherally observe people and thus offer the goods they crave.
Coolhunting: Social Media is Watching You

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 19 November, 2022

Coolhunting is an advertising and marketing practice. In effect, it ‘hunts for trends’ and then applies them to new products or services. In a less technical way, it concerns keeping track of what’s becoming fashionable, both in behaviors and consumables, and producing merchandise based on those patterns.

Social media platforms are essential spaces for the development of coolhunting. It’s also carried out on the street, but this is decreasing in regularity. On social media, people express themselves and expand on their lifestyles, expectations, and desires. The market masters are there, ready and waiting to see what consumers want. They make a living from it.

Coolhunting is an important practice in today’s consumerist society. It doesn’t mean being attentive to people’s needs, shortcomings, and difficulties so they can design products that solve these problems. On the contrary, the focus is on what’s on trend, or what the masses want.

“Authorities no longer command; they ingratiate themselves with the chooser, they tempt and seduce.” 

-Zygmunt Bauman-

cool word
The term coolhunting first appeared in the 90s.

The world of cool

It isn’t easy to define what’s cool and what isn’t. In fact, the word is used in many contexts and in various ways. Psychologists, Ilan Dar-Nimrod, Ian Hansen, and their colleagues conducted some simple empirical research on this subject.

Three studies converged to identify personality markers for coolness. The psychologists were surprised by the results. The first group described coolness as being related to socially desirable attributes. The second and third groups agreed but also identified a second factor they called contrarian coolness. It referred to rebellious, rough, and emotionally controlled characteristics.

A la carte rebellions and other derivatives

In accordance with the research above, the promoters of cool culture, and, of course, of coolhunting, know that an important trait of cool involves being challenging. Indeed, the typically cool character is rebellious and disruptive. In fact, cool models always seem to be angry and look like they don’t give a damn about anything. On the other hand, their looks also suggest that they could be capable of anything.

In 1997, the historian, Thomas Frank, wrote a book that soon became a classic, entitled The Conquest of Cool. He made some disturbing revelations in this work. The most important of them was that the entertainment industry assimilated and transformed the genuine rebellions of the 60s. They then turned them into something inoffensive and without substance: cool culture.

In effect, advertising turned social rebellion into magazine cover rebellion. Youths who used to demonstrate against wars were transformed into boys who pierced their noses or ripped their jeans to show how disruptive they were. Of course, they also had to be handsome (there’s an industry for this too), but, above all, individualistic. In this new orbit, the collective itself became the fashion, not the cause of it.

cool woman
Coolhunting has become an indispensable tool for many sectors.

Coolhunting and impersonality

It’s perfectly acceptable for stakeholders to explore markets and identify consumer tastes. However, with coolhunting, it’s the philosophy that gravitates as a backdrop that’s questionable. It’s the kind that promises satisfaction and happiness, merely by joining the current trend.

Although we might argue that we can always choose to take this philosophy lightly, in reality, not everyone understands these market vagaries for what they are: passing trivialities. Indeed, sometimes they take them far too seriously. The trends may even cause them conflict: “Oh my God, I’m not cool!” they find themselves saying. Occasionally, they also might obey not-so-subtle directives like “If you’re not x, or you don’t do y, you’re out”.

These types of mechanisms and practices feed the atavistic fear of separating from the herd. In ancient times, this fear was based on disappointing the group for not having been brave, effective, or skillful. However, in today’s coolhunting-driven culture, the fear is that we won’t be able to buy or acquire certain items, or that we won’t be in line with the current trend. Indeed, there’s no greater danger than the kind that feeds our fear of what or who we are.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dar-Nimrod, I., Hansen, I. G., Proulx, T., Lehman, D. R., Chapman, B. P., & Duberstein, P. R. (2012). Coolness: An empirical investigation. Journal of Individual Differences, 33(3), 175.
  • Gloor, P. A., & Cooper, S. (2007). Coolhunting. Chasing Down the Next Big Thing. Amacom.
  • Rodríguez Díaz, S. (2012). Consumismo y sociedad: una visión crítica del Homo consumens.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.