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Many of the consumers that McVeigh interviewed about Hello Kitty complained about corporations targeting them, making them buy things—things like more Hello Kitty products. But as he pointed out, “Capitalist forces do not simply foist knickknacks on the masses, and we must give credit to the individual consumer who, after all, chooses to purchase certain incarnations of Hello Kitty but not others (or chooses not to buy Hello Kitty at all).” After all, if Sanrio’s managers could create dozens of Hello Kittys, they most certainly would—and they are trying all the time. In more than three decades of effort, they have never come close.

Not only can logos have meaning, and not only can that meaning be manufactured—it can be manufactured by consumers. Ultimately, a cultural symbol that catches on is almost never simply imposed, but rather is created and then tacitly agreed upon by those who choose to accept its meaning, wherever that meaning may have originated. . . .

Here, then, is the real problem with the argument that this new generation sees right through traditional advertising and therefore is not fooled by its messages: Everybody sees right through traditional advertising. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize that you’re being pitched to when watching a thirty-second commercial.

But recognition is not the same thing as immunity. And what’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity material as anything else. These are the consumers, in fact, who are most amenable to using brands to fashion meaning for themselves—to define themselves, to announce who they are and what they stand for.