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Trying to be Cool

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I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in marketing articles lately: big brands trying to be cool.

1. HP’s trying to be cool with a viral video and new ad campaign. From the New York Times:

(The FingerSkilz video) was revealed to be a “viral” advertisement from Hewlett-Packard, the leading edge of a new global campaign that aims to imbue H.P.’s machines with some of the coolness more commonly associated with Apple.

H.P. executives say the new campaign, which includes television and print advertising in addition to a variety of edgier approaches, is aimed at shaking up perceptions of the company as slightly stodgy, an image that has been reinforced by conservative corporate brand campaigns with themes like “everything is possible.”

Hmm, so HP wants to be cool like Apple? Ok. First, let’s compare company names: HP: blah. Apple: cool. How about web site and advertising? HP: blah. Apple: cool. Now here’s a quick test. Which laptop below is cool?

Yep, you’re very good. And what brand is the black computer below? Wrong, it’s a Dell. Just kidding… it’s an HP. But you probably couldn’t tell at a glance, could you?

2. Walmart’s trying to be cool by copying MySpace. Slashdot quotes AdAge:

“It’s a quasi-social-networking site for teens designed to allow them to ‘express their individuality,’ yet it screens all content, tells parents their kids have joined and forbids users to e-mail one another. Oh, and it calls users ‘hubsters’ — a twist on hipsters that proves just how painfully uncool it is to try to be cool.”

I can’t comment on this better than BL Ochman: “Watching big ad agencies (and corporations) trying to master new media is a lot like watching people who are having mid-life crises trying to look hip, cool and young by adopting the toys, tools, and language of youth. It’s rather pathetic.”

3. McDonald’s tried to buy cool. From BBC News:

McDonald’s, the world’s biggest fast food chain, is desperate to keep in with the youth market and saw hip hop as the key to a piece of the action. Last year, they offered to pay artists to rap about Big Macs. The deal was cash per airplay for any song featuring a Big Macs. Not surprisingly, the idea never flew, as not a single band would take up the offer from McDonald’s.

DJ Semtex, hip-hop DJ for the BBC’s 1Xtra radio station, says artists don’t want to be seen to be bought. “The way that they came up the scene was like ‘yeah, we’re going to get into this culture and we’re going to exploit and make some money and you’re going to buy our food’.”

Ouch. Come on, McDonald’s… this is so not the way to be cool.

So what makes a brand cool? Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of CoolBrands, comments on the results of their recent brand survey:

“When we ask about what makes a cool brand, the kind of things we get back is authenticity, originality, uniqueness,” he said. “These are things that people are trying to strive for. They don’t want to be seen as having the same type of brands as everyone else. They’re looking for brands that have that cool edge.”

Authenticity, originality and uniqueness. If your brand doesn’t inherently have these traits, please… don’t attempt to be cool. You’ll look like you’re having a mid-life crisis, and you will be laughed at. You can play the “cool dad” who’s still a grown-up and acts accordingly, but don’t try to be 18 again. If it’s important to connect with the younger audience, don’t do it with your existing brand… this is the time for a new one that’s created from the ground up to appeal to a different mindset.

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Jennifer Rice is the founder of Mantra Brand Communication. She has extensive experience in brand/marketing strategy, market/customer research, integrated marketing communications and channel support.

Jennifer also writes theWhat’s Your Brand Mantra? blog which offers musings on branding, marketing and the ecology of business.

Trying to be Cool
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