Client: VCCP / Rough Hill

Objective: To create a test of brand coolness based on psychological science

Outcome: An coolness test was made, for a regular feature in an industry magazine and as a strategic brand tool

The first step in this project was to conduct a review of psychological literature on coolness, in order to see what past research says defines coolness. Although there was a general lack of empiricism in past papers, the review allowed us to construct a set of coolness factors. For each factor, five questions were written in order to create a draft survey.

This list of questions was distributed to twenty advertising executives, who assessed each one on how strongly it was related to coolness. As a result, some items were changed to be more suitable, while some whole factors (such as youthfulness) were dropped altogether.

The next stage was to validate the questionnaire – as such, it was filled in by a group of participants procured by brainchimp. The participants filled in the questionnaire for Apple and for Microsoft; they also completed an implicit test, which is a test that uses reaction times to measure non-conscious memory associations (i.e. between Apple/Microsoft and ‘cool’, in this case). To learn more about implicit testing, click here.

The participants also answered the coolness survey for a brand chosen at random from a list of 200 (for analytic purposes). They then answered some questions about the brands, such as how cool they thought they were and how likely they would be to wear a t-shirt with the logo on.

This validation test can be seen here.

The data was then used to confirm and refine the coolness measure. For example, it was found that coolness was made up of a smaller number of factors than predicted, and that these could be measured with fewer questions than had been used originally, while still being reliable. This new, refined, measure was found to be a valid measure of coolness: for example, it correlated as expected with the implicit coolness test results; it correlated with likelihood of wearing a t-shirt with the brand logo on; and brands seen as cool at face value (e.g. Cath Kidston, Red Bull) received higher scores.

The end result was a scientifically valid 20-item test that measures brand coolness as a whole, as well as its six constituent factors:

  • Effortlessness – e.g. James Bond, who barely breaks into a sweat when saving the world, and is calm enough to crack a witty pun even after having fought to the death.
  • Leadership - e.g. Google, which lead the way for search engines, which stands ahead of the competition, and which has its own clearly defined inner purpose and direction.
  • Mystery – e.g. Beats by Dre, which is relatively expensive and which cultivates perceptions of scarcity through limited edition designs.
  • Niceness - e.g. Pampers, which is perceived as family-friendly, amiable, and non-threatening, and which also is well-known for its charitable campaigns.
  • Retro - e.g.  Lego, which has maintained its style throughout the years and which reminds consumers of their own childhoods.
  • Subculture - e.g. Marvel, which is associated with a “nerdy” (in a cool sense) group of people, and which has had a strong impact on the symbolic language of society.

Looking at Apple versus Microsoft provides a worked example.

Overall, Apple is cooler than Microsoft – not wholly surprising. However, Microsoft might want to focus on its retro qualities, where it is significantly ahead. While Apple is cutting edge and modern, Microsoft’s link with the past could turn out to be its advantage.

The brand coolness measure is soon to provide a regular feature for a marketing industry magazine, and is used as a strategic branding tool for clients.

Please get in touch if you would like to know more about the coolness measure.

brainchimp brought academic rigour to a highly complicated subject. They were invaluable proving that cool is not arbitrary but instead understandable, and they were fantastic to work with to develop a model that was easy to use whilst being scientifically robust.
Jeremy SImmonds, Co-founder, Rough Hill, VCCP