Too cool for school?
I am not cool, I have never been cool and I suspect that I will never become cool. Of course not being cool for more than 33 years may, for some, bring with it certain problems – a difficulty making friends, climbing the career ladder and being let in to certain nightclubs and bars being the obvious ones. To some degree it has, but never having been considered cool also brings with it one distinct advantage – I do not have to worry about keeping my cool.
Brands, like aging journalists, also face this same problem. Some brands simply never attain cool status during their lifetime. Other brands become cool, but lose their coolness when they become successful and move into the mainstream. Cool brands face a daily battle to retain their coolness against the competition.
These issues were thrown at media agency Feather Brooksbank by a number of its clients last year, which got the agency thinking about exactly what constitutes ‘cool’, how do brands attain ‘cool’ status and how do brands retain ‘cool’ status in the long term.
In fact they did more than think about it. Account director Gary Wise was handed the challenge of figuring out the characteristics of brand coolness and alongside his team of account manager Tim Bisset and account executive Simon Crunden they created Avalanche, a unique system for researching the coolness of certain brand brands.
Wise, who joined Feather Brooksbank from BLM Media in London more than three and half years ago, explains the origins of Avalanche: “Around a year ago a number of clients said some interesting things that really got us all thinking. Peroni said to us that they want to be the Diesel of beers, FOPP Records said that they wanted to remain a cool brand but increase their sales and High Street presence and VisitScotland wanted to launch a cool advertising campaign that would position Scotland as the capital of extreme sports in the UK. It was on the back of these kinds of questions that we started thinking about what constitutes coolness and how brands can lose it, gain it and retain it long term.”
Wise and his team also wanted to consider how marketing communications can effect perceptions of coolness, how a cool niche brand expands without being seen to sell out (and in turn lose its cool image) and ultimately could they develop a tool that would enable the agency to predict the ‘cool’ lifecycle of a brand and decode how marketing communications can influence or extend this lifecycle.
So Wave 1 of the Avalanche research (Avalanche = snow = cold = cool ... gettit?) kicked off around nine months ago with an e-mail questionnaire being sent to a sample of 300 people. The initial sample was weighted towards 25-34 year-olds who as Wise points out tend to be those that dictate what is cool and what is not. The Wave 1 sample was also weighted towards London, with 58 per cent of the sample living in the capital with the rest of the sample spread across the UK. Again as Wise points out London is widely considered, both at home and internationally, that the UK’s capital of cool (no matter how much we may hate that fact) remains London.
The Wave 1 questionnaire consisted of a range of questions and statements about brands and brand perceptions and asked respondents to rate statements on a scale and also to rate their perceptions of certain brands as Wise explains: “For Wave 1 we selected brands that we felt were cool, but we wanted a wide range of brands so we also included brands that we felt had lost their cool image and those that aspire to be cool.”
The team also wanted to investigate whether the quality of a product or brand or its niche positioning in the marketplace had any bearing at all on whether a brand was considered cool. Wise explains: “There was some correlation between brand quality and brand coolness. In the case of SMEG (appliances) it was considered the coolest brand, the best quality brand and the most niche brand by our sample. But interesting some brands buck that trend. Zara, the fashion chain, was considered to be pretty mediocre quality but a cool fashion brand, while Mini was also considered a very cool brand despite it being a mass marketed product. At the opposite end of the scale Burberry is considered to be uncool yet still pretty niche, but we all know the problems that the Burberry brand faces. Pringle, for instance, is considered to be a quality product, but remains pretty uncool.
“Fashion is a very interesting sector to look at here as disposable fashion is becoming really cool. You have fast food now we have fast fashion, that is why fashion brands such as Zara and Top Shop are now considered cool. You can buy a top from them this week and send it to the charity shop next month. The days of buying a shirt for life are long gone and this is reflected in our research.”
Wise also included an unprompted section in the questionnaire to gain some perspective on brand coolness without leading the sample down a predetermined path.
However, interestingly, the Avalanche results also showed that the same percentage of males and females feel that iPod, Mini and Diesel are the coolest brands around. Another factor to note is that one third of all respondents put an Apple brand (Apple or iPod) in their top three brands.
All of the Avalanche research can be cross-tabulated so Wise can pull together any combination of results. For instance he was able to consider differences in brand perceptions in London and Scotland. Respondents in London consider Nike, Diesel and Mini to be the coolest brands, while Scottish respondents plumbed for Italian beer brand Peroni, Pizza Express and Irn-Bru (note they are all food and drink brands!)
Wave 2 of the Avalanche research has just last week been completed and the results collated. This time the sample size was increased to 1,000 respondents.
The top line findings include
Ã¯iPod remains the ‘coolest’ brand and has in fact
become cooler during the last year. In Wave 1, 25 per cent of respondents considered it a cool brand, while 35 per cent of respondents in Wave 2 perceive it as the coolest brand around. Perhaps the launch of the iPod nano and the advertising to support this has had an impact on the brand perception.
Ã¯ In Wave 1, 11 per cent of people said Apple was a cool brand. In wave 2 that has risen to 20 per cent.
Ã¯ Mini has lost some cool, falling from 18 per cent in Wave 1 to 7 per cent in Wave 2, however, unprompted it remains the coolest car brand.
Ã¯The FCUK brand has plummeted in the coolness stakes, falling from being the third coolest fashion brand in Wave 1 to the 13th coolest fashion brand in Wave 2.
Ã¯The Reiss fashion brand has also toppled in the coolness stakes, going from being the fifth coolest fashion brand in Wave 1 to the 36th coolest in Wave 2.
Ã¯Under fire supermodel Kate Moss was voted as the coolest woman around, while actor Johnny Depp was named the coolest man.
Ã¯Italy was rated as the coolest country, with Britain in second and Brazil in third place.
Having a second set of findings makes the Avalanche research even more insightful as Wise can now begin to map the cool lifecycle of certain brands and he has high hopes for the system going forward.
He says: “Now we have findings from Wave 2 of our research that will help us develop a predictive system that we hope will be able to predict to clients when their brand may lose its cool and what its coolness lifecycle may be. In terms of Mini we can already predict that it will lose its cool at some point in the future. It is how it goes about recapturing that which is the interesting thing.
“As we do go forward with this there are a number of other factors that we will need to build into the research, such as whether a brand makes a profit, its distribution, any major forthcoming events, news coverage and so on as there are many factors that impact on a brand’s cool. That information can then be used to steer the marketing strategy for the future. A traditional media route may no longer be the best route to market a brand’s cool in the future.
The next wave of Avalanche research will kick-off in around six months. Wise intends to continue to complete new wave every six months after that so that they can build up an accurate picture of brand perceptions over a prolonged period. He also intends to introduce a qualitative aspect through the use of focus group sessions.
From these findings he hopes to compile a detailed database of brand cases studies, which will help the agency in the future.
Wise concludes: “This system will be used as a new business tool in the future and to be honest it already is. We have a number of interesting meetings set up with companies that are not clients but are interested in what we have been doing with Avalanche and want to find out more about their brands. This is delving deeper than previous research and for some clients it is a very valuable insight into their brand.”
As I round off the interview I ask Gary whether he would be interested in developing a strategy so that I could perhaps, in the future, attain some cool.
“I’m a media strategist not a miracle worker,” he replies.
I leave ... quickly.