The Science of Cool

By: Dave Collins

What is cool?   In the movies, it’s the guy who carries himself with an aura of superiority and swagger, with just enough similarities with ourselves that we can identify with him.   In school, it was the kids who differentiated themselves…to a certain extent. What’s the difference between the quarterback in the varsity jacket and the kid in the ICP t-shirt? One remained different, yet conventional and normal, and the other stepped just outside the realm of normality, where people weren’t fully comfortable. Every audience has a limit of abnormality. For businesses, it’s the job of the marketers and the designers to remain conventionally unconventional.

According to Fast Company, coolness can be whittled down to 4 main traits.

  • Cool is a social perception
  • Coolness is relative
  • Coolness is universally positive
  • Cool diverges from the norm

The true key to coolness is being unconventional. However, unconventionality has its limits. One must be different, while simultaneously remaining normal enough to not be extreme. A brand that goes too far from the norm will not only fail to become cool, but will run the risk of being disliked. According to the study done by Warren and Campbell on “What Makes Things Cool,” coolness is simply a “very delicate balance of doing something that shows that you go your own way and do your own thing, but you do it in a way that is socially desirable or at least acceptable.” Products that are too conventional are considered boring and mainstream, while products that too extreme are controversial, and thus fail to achieve cool status.

For a business, the lesson is twofold. First, they must know their target market, and what they consider normal. For instance, a Titleist customer is more likely to consider a 9-5 job and a luxury car normal than a Harley Davidson biker who owns a tattoo parlor. Despite the obvious stereotypes, the point remains, normal is a relative term, and thus can only determined by the audience one targets. Secondly, the business must determine what the audience considers the limits of abnormality. Once these limits are determined, designers and marketers must ensure they do not cross it, or they run the risk of being either too extreme, or too “weird.” Therefore, the difference between cool and weird lies solely in the audience’s view of normalcy and convention. A product, or pitch, must be different while remaining tied to everyday conventional wisdom. Think white picket fence, with two kids and a golden retriever becoming a granite wall and two bulldogs. Same principles are involved, with just a little twist on the norm.

Finally, coolness has an expiration date. If you’re too cool, people will want to emulate you. If your product or service elicits a high enough demand, it will in turn attract more suppliers, and these suppliers will want to emulate your coolness. If too many people emulate your coolness, then the next thing you know, you’re mainstream and conventional, and therefore, uncool. It’s like when your parents friend you on Facebook. Suddenly, it’s a little too normal and accepted, or a little too weird for you. The lesson, always keep your messaging one step ahead of your competition, and stay one social media platform ahead of your parents.


24 thoughts on “The Science of Cool

  1. Yuxuan Wang April 21, 2015 / 6:35 pm

    For the business part, I agree with your point which is the lesson is twofold. Actually, what I know about “Cool” is differentiation, or we can say it is the core value in a firm. On one hand, it is good for firm’s creativity and innovation, at the same time, it could also impact on customer’s psychology. In a word, it is good for firm’s developing. On the other hand, just as you mentioned, it is so hard to control the degree, they must to determine what the audience considers the limits of abnormality. If they do not deal with this problem well, then the influence could be negative.


  2. beaudoinr April 21, 2015 / 10:00 pm

    I agree with your statements about how the “coolness” of a company or any individual can go out of date real quick. All it takes it to many people liking the same thing, because all there “cool” kids are already one step ahead while all the others are trying to play catch up. This is noticeably distinct in my town with haircuts. One kid gets a nice hair cut, then another, then another. Pretty soon the entire town has the same haircut which ruins it for the “cool” kids or trend setters, then the cycle starts all over again.


  3. Joe Greco April 22, 2015 / 11:04 pm

    I believe that coolness plays a major fact in a company’s selling methods, whatever the “cool” kids are wearing also unfortunately plays a major role. For example companies such as Nike and under armour associate typically with athletes and market world famous athletes such as Tom Brady and LeBron James. The ‘coolness’ associated with those two athletes plays a major role in it’s sales from people like me and you.


  4. Yafen Liu April 22, 2015 / 11:07 pm

    I agree with the definition of coolness of business. It is twofold. I will define it as creativity and innovation, which is a differentiation strategy. To avoid emulating, companies have to keep with the step of time. That is, companies need to keep creative and innovative all the time. Meanwhile, to attract more customers and maintain the current customers, creativity and innovation plays an important role in a firm. So, the coolness that ensures a firm strive in the marketplace is also creativity and innovative.


  5. Mattia Lanzi April 23, 2015 / 2:08 am

    I also agree with the definition of coolness of business. Especially with big name brands like Adidas, if someone is wearing some Adidas shirt all of the other people are going to copy him and wear the same item. To have more customer a business doesn’t need to be just “cool”, it need also innovation in its products. But i think that i a part of coolness of a business.


  6. Jim Butterworth April 23, 2015 / 1:08 pm

    I agree with your point that coolness has an expiration date, which makes the marketing of a cool product difficult to sustain. While not exactly cool, the textbook points out that the five most stylish brands in 1993 were Levi’s, Nike, Bugle Boy, Guess, and LA Gear. None of these are currently in the top five stylish brands, and a few of the brands would be considered minor, or even insignificant.
    The brands that have stayed major players, have done so not only by trying to stay cool, but also building upon and expanding their brand.


  7. Michael Scuderi April 23, 2015 / 10:08 pm

    I agree with the fore main quality’s of coolness. Because coolness isn’t the normal thing coolness is the hip new or next thing. Its a delicate balance like the post said because if you have an incredible idea it might be years ahead of its time but fail miserably. As for the business end of it you must always try to be looking for the next big thing because realistically consumer trends are real and is how most major companies get their start up money from just one cash cow.


  8. Kendra Van Pelt April 24, 2015 / 5:39 am

    I totally agree with the article and also think that by using the wordage of the “coolness” factor, the author has made the subject more easy to read and relatable to everyday browser. I absolutely agree with the concepts of staying just a little outside of the norm, but not too far out or in. I think a applicable situation to the coolness factor may be found in clothing. Think of a friend that can rock an look – they can be apart of the hipster phase, the grunge phase, the preppy phase. They can so interchangeably go between which phase, but still remain in that norm level overall. Everyone thinks they’re so cool when they step out of their box and try something crazy on, but because that person can always go back to their reliable centered phase, they are considered normal, with a side of cool.


  9. Ryan MacLeod April 24, 2015 / 1:39 pm

    The four main qualities of coolness are all completely on point. It’s interesting to think about the life-span of being “cool”. Once you are considered uncool its almost impossible to regain that title again. This concept of cool seems to inspire innovation and for business to strive for differentiation from their competitors, but to a certain extent. I liked the articles example of PBR. It was once a great american beer because it was cheap and affordable and enjoyed by the masses. I find it funny that my grandfather and his brothers would enjoy a PBR and now the so called “Hipsters” drink it and have ruined that nostalgic and classic feel of the brand for many.
    Great article and blog-post!


  10. Billy Muldoon April 27, 2015 / 8:17 pm

    This is a very interesting post, mostly because of how true it is. I agree that in order for a company to be successful, they must be aware of what is “normal” throughout their target market. And most times, what ever is considered “normal” within an environment, is probably also considered “cool” as well. Hence why there are some individuals who pay extreme costs to own things that will cause other people to think they are “cool”. If someone doesn’t wear the same kind of clothing as everyone else, or does things that are out of the norm, they will most times be considered uncool, and thus they are not normal. It is definitely key for companies to be aware of these certain trends in order t guarantee success within their market.


  11. Meghan Saldutti April 27, 2015 / 9:42 pm

    I never thought of “cool” on a business side of the sector. It makes a lot of sense that when companies are marketing their product they should be sure that they are ahead of their competitors as well as keeping up with the new lingo, social media networks or even the most popular styles in the fashion departments. For example, when companies are targeting say college students they should research what appeals most to kids these days so they can reach a broader audience of people and draw in more consumers.


  12. Ryan Etter April 27, 2015 / 9:47 pm

    I think cool is more personal than business. Respect is more important in a business sect than “cool”. If a product is the thing to have then its a different story. Staying up to date is very important for a business thats why i think taking steps into social media marketing will cover some serious ground for businesses left behind.


  13. Braxton Bilous April 27, 2015 / 11:09 pm

    Being cool in today’s business world is a huge asset. Being able to establish your company as cool, will help in all areas of your business. One problem with being cool is certain people will just see a company as unconventional, especially if it requires change. This could be a product, marketing, or a pitch. I feel with trying to differentiate your company in the business world, you must take the risk of being cool to achieve or continue your success.


  14. Mackenzie Kilmartin April 27, 2015 / 11:27 pm

    Businesses and brand names all know that one of the main importance of advertising is making sure they are catching the consumers’ eyes. By doing this, they need to find what interests a consumer-what they consider “cool”-what they like, what they want, and what everyone else wants. No one is going to want a good or service that isn’t cool-isn’t reliable, isn’t expensive, isn’t popular, etc. The definition of cool changes every day just like our markets and just like society. Certain businesses and companies that understand what cool is can make a successful contribution to our market, and should have powerful influences on other businesses.


  15. Patrick Breslin April 28, 2015 / 2:38 am

    I agree with the fact that it is hard to find that medium of “coolness” for a company and that the very attempt can risk disaster. Not only in business but in everyday life this issue is relevant. I tend to notice the trending of clothing. At first someone that dares to dress differently than the norm is thought of as more weird but if they haven’t gone too far that trend will eventually pick up and before you know it, everyone is wearing that style. Unfortunately that style of clothing has now become the norm and isn’t as “cool” any more, until the next trend appears. Companies have to find this medium by going out of there comfort zone and capitalize largely on raising sales in the period of peek “coolness” and when their idea is special.


  16. Amanda McKenzie April 28, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    I agree that whatever is “cool” is what sells. In society and marketing, it all depends on who is wearing what, who is promoting the brand, or even what brand it is. Everything comes and goes in trends, so is it actually “cool” or is it just a temporary thing? I think this is kind of a hard concept to determine what is cool or not because there are so many different types of people and everyone has different tastes, likes or dislikes, but companies targeting different products as cool is very interesting because like i said, trends are always changing.


  17. William Cavalier April 28, 2015 / 3:08 pm

    I definetly believe that coolness plays a major fact in a company’s selling method. Everyone always done what they believed was cool. People buy brands because they perceive the people who wear them or use them as cool. Many companies use famous actors, or athletes to sell their products because people love them and worship them are perceived as cool because people want to be like them.When companies understand what is cool and was is attractive to the normal persons eye they can make a large profit.


  18. Andrew Gerry April 28, 2015 / 3:18 pm

    ‘Coolness’ is just a reality that people perceive, due to that, businesses should keep this in mind as they try to reach customers. This may help to explain their behaviors and social culture.


  19. Kevin McAtamney April 28, 2015 / 6:08 pm

    My dad immigrated to this country when he was 18 from Belfast, Ireland. He remembers people saying things were “cool” since the 80’s and he had no clue what it meant when he got here. “Cool” is one of the few words that never went out of style like “groovy” or “rad”. This word always seem to stick around and that’s why I believe companies should revolve their marketing campaign around this single word. I agree with almost all the comments in the sense that something that is cool is based on the perseption of the individual. The hard part of these marketing teams is to find out on the aggregrate, how MANY of these people think their product is cool. It’s an interesting concept that was reported on well but for the future, having something be “cool” should always be the base on where to start marketing.


  20. Jimmy Clark April 28, 2015 / 10:54 pm

    Even though the perception of cool changes as time goes on, there’s always trends, and the perception of what being “cool” is. It’s important that marketers up to date with these trends, and are able to predict how they change. There are also different trends within age groups. For example, when I was 8-12 I was more interested in wearing clothes representing my favorite sports team and athletes, but now I’m more interested in wear designer brands such as Polo, Vineyard Vines, and Nike. Keeping up with being “cool” takes creativity and logic, but it’s important to pay close attention to what people of that time are into.


  21. Ryan Zdanwich April 29, 2015 / 1:09 am

    This article is really interesting, and I never really understood what it meant until now. It’s actually kind of an obvious ideology, however so obvious that people remain oblivious to its hypothetical meaning. There are those who are considered “too abnormal” because how they put themselves out there is too different for people to handle. Just enough “abnormality” can make this considered “cool” and how it pertains to marketing is an interesting approach. I really enjoyed your article.


  22. John Parrish April 29, 2015 / 5:50 pm

    This is a very interesting post. The definition of what is cool definitely varies between each person and society. For businesses, wanting to make there product or service seem cool is a major aspect of marketing. The company would want the consumers to think that their product/service is cool and will raise their social status. However, it would be tough for the business to change their marketing strategies along with the change of how the target market views things that are “cool”.


  23. Andrew Dresner May 4, 2015 / 12:52 pm

    In order to be cool one must be willing to adapt to new standards of what cool may be at that moment. There is definitely a life expectancy to being cool and those people or brands who have stood the test of time have been able to adjust their approach. In my opinion when a brand is striving to be cool or be the next big thing it is important to for them to associate with cool people. This concept can be seen all of the time with celebrity and athlete endorsements. People want to associate themselves with a brand that is unique and brands that market their famous buyers have a great chance of creating a loyal following.


  24. Nick Pappalardo May 12, 2015 / 6:57 pm

    It’s so hard to market a product towards the “cool” crowd. Like you said, there is a very fine line between “cool” and just being odd. The challenge for these marketers is to make a product that stands out but not so much so that it is unusual or abnormal.


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