Often someone will rush in with a brief - we want to do something that will make our brand appear 'cool' to the youth. It's typically 'something' they want to do on Facebook or other social media since that is where the 'youth' are (no supporting data given), and they want us to figure out what that 'something' should be. Fine. The target audience may in fact not be what is defined by 'youth' (another term that's rarely defined), but since every brand is running after 'youth', so do we. Fine by us again. But what 'cool' is it that you want to be?
I've seen clients (and the client servicing guy representing them) get baffled by this question whenever I pose it. So here's what I think could be a quick guide to the different kinds of 'cool' there can be, and a few example brands.
1. 'I'm-cool-and-you-know-it' cool:
This is the highest form of cool. This is the very nirvana of coolness, what everyone trying to be cool attempts to be. This is a coolness in which you (as a brand or a personality) are 'comfortable in your skin', to use a cliche. You know who you are, whom you appeal to and whom you don't. You really don't need to advertise yourself, to shout out your good points. This is the cool that comes from being a brand that has been recognised for ages, which has a reputation for delivering quality every single time.
Examples: Mercedes-Benz, perhaps the best known brands of this kind of cool.
Burberry's, the fashion brand. Blackberry. Harley-Davidson.
2. 'I'm-cool-and-I-don't-care-what-you-think' cool:
This is a step below nirvana. This is a cool that has an edge to it, a certain brashness, a certain rudeness. Not always though. Niche brands, that cater to a very discerning and demanding audience, aim for this. The brand is differentiated, not quite on price but on taste. Few outside the circle would have ever heard of the brand, and those within the circle will aspire to this very brand. The brand strongly matches its customers' personality - those who do their own thing and don't really care about anyone else.
Examples: Carl Zeiss, the lensmaker, prized among professional cameramen. Or Atlas Outdoors, the brand of choice for Himalayan trekkers. A few haute couture fashion brands would sit here.
3. 'I'm-cool-and-you're-not-good-enough-for-me' cool
This is a hard cool to pull off. It is loaded with arrogance and chutzpah, so you have to be very, very good at what you do. This needs constant advertising to be seen as extremely desirable. As a brand, you need to be associated with famous and beautiful people, be seen as hopelessly glamourous, while being very, very rare on the ground. Being expensive is not really a criterion at all.
Examples: BMW and Rolex. A Rolex watch isn't any costlier than other watches in its class, but the brand is famously hard to come by in most shops. And as the old saying goes, ditance makes the heart grow fonder. Several fashion brands would also fall here.
4. 'I'm-cool-and-you-can-join-in' cool
This is another cool that's quite hard to achieve. You're talking of an accessible cool, in that while you are easy to get hold of, it's still cool to be seen with you. You may or may not be expensive, but you have a pedigree that's not easily matched.
Examples: Those two great rivals - Pepsi and Coca Cola. No further explanation is necessary.
5. 'I'm-cool-and-I-make-you-look-cool' cool
This is the commonest kind of cool. You make products that are reliable and are fairly good looking. They may lack the pedigree of the 'nirvana' cool, but most people will buy them, because they are either affordable or widely available or both. No one's embarrassed to buy you, but no one is particularly proud either. Nevertheless, it's hard to convince such a brand that they are already 'cool' and don't have to throw money at some vague ideal of what it means to be 'cool'.
Examples: Practically every good brand.
6. 'I'm-cool-because-cool-folk-think-I'm-cool' cool
This is a serendipitous cool. You can't achieve this; it has to be conferred upon you by customers. People buy the brand because they think they look cool in it (the products rather), and because other people think the buyers look cool they also buy into the brand. The best you can do is make quality and innovative products, and hope people will like them.
Examples: Zara, the clothing brand that people worldwide have taken to. Hush Puppies, the footwear brand that was a huge sensation in the 90s.
7. 'New-kid-on-the-block' cool
This is a brand that is seen as cool often because it is a new brand. Of course, it won't work unless you've got something worth your customers' money to offer. A large part of the coolness is supported by bold advertising. In India, a well-known foreign brand making an entry would automatically fall into this slot.
Examples: Starbucks. Wal-Mart.
8. 'I-really-wanna-be-cool-and-I'm trying' uncool:
This isn't cool at all. This is often a 'cool' brand (as defined in point 6) that was cool but tried to do something to appear 'cool' and fell between the stools. This category also includes those brands that aren't quite known for quality products, or create cheesy and corny advertising. Customers of good taste would be embarrassed to be seen with them. Nevertheless, if these brands were to fall into the hands of a good and conscientous agency, it would be a fulfilling challenge.
So next time there's a brief from a brief wanting to be 'cool', you can cite them this list and ask which one they choose. That probably makes your strategising so much easier.