Are you a sell out? How about your kid?
Frontline’s documentary “Generation Like” tells the story of how businesses use social media and big data to sell their wares to members of Generation Z (people born between 1995 and 2010). It urges you to think about this topic from two angles. First, the teens’ perspective. Do they know they are being marketed to, and if so, do they even care? Wrapped in with this is the parental anxiety that exists for those parents who are not up-to-date with social media and digital technology. The second perspective is from the world of business marketing. The film gets into discussions about YouTube fame, collaborations, product integration, and content creation. It asks questions like: how much is a “like” worth? Or a friend? A follower? Or most importantly, the “share”.
This documentary primary focuses on the tactics businesses use to “empower” youth to spread marketing messages within their personal social media networks. One teen in this film spends her free time liking and sharing all the Hunger Games content she can possibly find to earn “sparks”. A currency only relevant to Hunger Games movies, that cannot be redeemed for prizes, but it’s used to keep score of who are the world’s biggest Hunger Games fans. Public recognition and a sense of belonging is used as the primary motivator for her behaviour.
The film also considers how these teens interact with traditional consumer brands, and if these youths are aware that they are being marketed to. At one point the film’s author asked members of Generation Z what it means to sell out…and none of them could give the traditional Baby Boomer or Generation X version of the term. In fact, they really had no clue what selling out was. One puzzled-looking teen thought that selling out means that there are no tickets left for a concert. Although technically correct, I can assure you that this wasn’t the context in which the term was being used.
The film definitely has some cringe-worthy moments. The most notable example I observed was a section near the end of the film when a mother discusses helping her 12 year-old daughter take and post photos to Instagram – her advice “if she (her daughter) wants to get the most likes, I know that all we have to post full body shots” (cringe).
I use this documentary as a piece of course content for the Social Media Management courses I teach in the Public Relations (PR) program at Algonquin College. Students have written some fantastic reflection pieces on how this documentary has changed their view of how business and social media interact, and what implications it may have on their personal and professional (PR) lives.
You can watch the full doc, and access plenty of bonus content, on the Frontline website… Or use the video above to stream it directly from YouTube (there are more ads in the YouTube version). Definitely a worth the watch.