Timesheadbglogo 1LOOKING for a cool new way to wrap those boring Christmas presents? Then what you may need is rapping paper, which is imprinted with the lyrics of rap songs and is sure to be popular in avant-garde American households this year, writes Tony Allen-Mills. The latest trend in gift-giving was identified last week by Josh Spear, a 22-year-old Colorado student who has become one of America's leading "cool hunters", a new breed of internet-based trendspotter whose job is to track down cool new products before everyone tries to copy them. Full article here, or after the jump

The Sunday Times November 05, 2006

Cool kids click into trend spotting

LOOKING for a cool new way to wrap those boring Christmas presents? Then what you may need is rapping paper, which is imprinted with the lyrics of rap songs and is sure to be popular in avant-garde American households this year, writes Tony Allen-Mills.
The latest trend in gift-giving was identified last week by Josh Spear, a 22-year-old Colorado student who has become one of America's leading "cool hunters", a new breed of internet-based trendspotter whose job is to track down cool new products before everyone tries to copy them.

Young marketing gurus such as Spear were first identified in the 1990s as the agents of corporations desperate for insights into youth culture and the tastes and desires of so-called Generation X and Y consumers.

They have since begun to evolve into a crucial element in online commerce. Marketeers are frequent visitors to websites such as Coolhunting.com and Trendcentral.com, which monitor the internet to see what products are generating attention.

Trendspotting, according to Trendhunter.com, is the "science of identifying emerging shifts in our social behaviour and aspirations". The more specialised art of cool hunting is "the search for what's not popular "” yet".

"I'm like a futuristic cultural anthropologist," said Spear. "I'm 22 years old, I grew up with the internet and I'm the target for the ads these (businesses) want to put out. I'm like an ambassador that translates for them."

The exploding importance of the internet has already spawned numerous high-tech efforts to monitor the millions of weblogs and websites for signs of potentially profitable "buzz". The US-based Nielsen company, best known for monitoring television audiences, has launched BuzzMetrics "” software that sifts through the countless words posted online in search of trends.

Yet Spear launched his eponymous website two years ago with a simple list of products he liked. He received tips about other products and soon thousands of people were visiting his site. Companies began to send him products in the hope that he would mention them. "It was like, check out my inflatable sleeping bag, Josh," he said.

Among the early cool hunters who have had to adapt to internet competition is Jane Rinzler Buckingham, a California entrepreneur who wrote a book about teenage ambition at 16 and set up Youth Intelligence, a market research firm since sold to CAA, a powerful Hollywood agency.

The firm used to tour cities in search of trendsetters who could answer questions that Buckingham summarised as: "If blue is the new black, what's the new blue?" But the internet has speeded up the process so much that "the minute we spot a trend we've got about four seconds to tell our clients", said Buckingham.

Youth Intelligence is now part of a broader CAA-owned group that claims a worldwide network of 15,000 correspondents alerting clients to new trends. It also runs a "trend school" offering "an intensive immersion into the lives of Gen Xers (now in their thirties) and Yers (in their twenties)".

So what "” apart from rapping paper "” is likely to be cool this Christmas? There are online karaoke sites that will enable you to share your rendition of Jingle Bells with millions of people around the world; there's a wearable canoe, handy for Boxing Day floods; and there are American Gulag necklaces and bracelets. They look like barbed wire, but are actually made of rubber.