Many marketers want to create “cool” brands to be successful in the marketplace. Consumers rarely want to buy boring, pedestrian products or be associated with uncool brands. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are invested to “rejuvenate” the image of brands and make them cool again.

However, rarely have marketers stopped for a moment to question what being a “cool” product or brand means, and how consumers perceive “coolness.” Identifying the core characteristics of perceived coolness allows companies to spend more effectively their “coolness budget”. Understanding the origins of coolness also opens the question as to what happens to coolness over time, and whether there are situations where you do not want to appear “cool”.


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What is Coolness: Appropriate Autonomy

Coolness is usually defined as a positive trait of people or objects that are perceived to have “appropriate autonomy”.

  • Autonomy means that the object is willing and able to follow its own path and breaking social norms rather than conform to the expectations and desires of others. For example, artists are cool when they do not sacrifice their artistic creativity to the conventions of the entertainment industry.
  • Appropriate: it means that the object is breaking a social norm but being completely unacceptable for the conventions of society. For example, an entrepreneur may be cool because he smokes marijuana (thus potentially deviating from a social and legal norm), but they may become uncool if they consume more dangerous or life-threatening drugs.


How to Create Coolness

To create cool products or cool brands you may want to follow some evidence-based suggestions:

  • Break some rules or market yourself as a rule-breaker. Being the best in class does not make you cool. Another brand may have less performative products, but consumers may prefer it because it is positioned as the “game-changer”, or the “new standard” of a sector. If you want to be cool, tell a story about how you do not follow conventions and you do not compromise on your core beliefs.
  • Do not exaggerate. In other words, keep it cool. Know what your audience would consider as an unbreakable social norm and do not cross that line. For example, if your target audience is very conservative, small acts of rebellion are enough to be considered cool. If your audience is young and wild, you have more room for bold action.
  • Take decisive actions. To be cool you cannot be prudent, you must be decisive in breaking the social rule. If your target perceives that you are too timid and that you do not really believe in your decisions, you will not be cool, and all your efforts will be for nothing. For example, many old brands try to maintain their coolness with “cool” endorsers, but they do nothing to break any real rule. Contrarily, when Diesel announced that they would advertise on Pornhub, they broke a rule and appear cool.


Consequences of Coolness

  • Cool brands are higher at least in nine dimensions: Cool brands are perceived to be extraordinary, aesthetically appealing, energetic, high status, rebellious, original, authentic, subcultural, iconic, and popular.
  • Coolness disappears over time. Coolness changes with time. To be cool, you must continuously break rules (without exaggerating) and keep yourself on the edge. Facebook was very cool 10 years ago, but now it is the social network of the Boomers. Apple is maintaining its coolness because breaking conventions is part of its identity; however, since Apple is keeping a slower pace of new disruptive innovations, this brand is struggling with the coolness factor.
  • Coolness is Big With Small Numbers. Generally, small companies and lesser-known brands are cooler than big brands. Small brands must fight the big corporations and create new solutions for consumers. When companies become successful, their client base increases, brands become more generalist, and the small original clique of consumers does not believe anymore in the coolness of the brand.


When Coolness Creates Success

  • Atypical products are cool. When songs break the rules of their genre, they become more successful. For example, Christian songs that talk about romantic love will be more successful than usual Christian rock topics. This is because breaking the rules of a genre (but keeping it recognizable) makes the song “cool”.
  • New inventions are cool. Many products that are presented in the market are perceived to be cool because they propose very different solutions to existing problems. Their coolness attracts the segment of the “innovators”, providing initial supports for brands.
  • Outdated is cool. If a product is SO out-of-date that nobody uses it, using it breaks a social norm. For example, LPs and cassettes are not good alternatives to digital songs, but many consumers consider them cool because they break the convention of digital music consumption. In general, vintage products (bow ties, hats) or vintage brands (e.g., Bianchi bicycles) may have an unexpected “coolness” advantage when they position themselves as the “cool” alternative of the conventional big brands.


When is Better to be Uncool?

When consumers are actively looking for conventions and standards, they prefer uncool brands. For example, if you must go for a funeral or a job interview, you want the most conventional outfit in the marketplace.



To create cool products and cool brands you must be autonomous (i.e., you must follow something you believe in) and break social rules for your cause. However, you must also be appropriate for your target audience, avoiding crossing the line of unbreakable social norms.


Monthly Consumer Discoveries is a Monthly newsletter that brings you the most interesting updates in consumer behavior research.




If you want to be cool in life, think about what you believe in and take some bold action in that direction. How much? Enough to break a social rule in your community, but not so extreme to be thrown out of your community.



Warren, C., Batra, R., Loureiro, S. M. C., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2019). Brand coolness. Journal of Marketing, 83(5), 36-56.

Warren, C., & Campbell, M. C. (2014). What makes things cool? How autonomy influences perceived coolness. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(2), 543-563.

Berger, J., & Packard, G. (2018). Are atypical things more popular?. Psychological Science, 29(7), 1178-1184.



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