Cool credentials are critical to many brands, but only some achieve them. Even fewer maintain them.
This is the second year that The Brand Council has produced a report on what it judges to be Cool BrandLeaders and has, this time, surveyed British consumers to find out more about what makes brands cool and which pitfalls to avoid. Marketing has exclusive access to the findings.
"Cool BrandLeaders are brands that have become extremely desirable among many style leaders. They have a magic about them, signifying that users have an exceptional sense of taste and style," explains Marcel Knobil, chair of the Cool BrandLeaders judging panel.
The Brand Council has published a book of all those brands awarded such status. Marketing presents four of them as case studies in 'cool'.
Sports brand Puma, destined for obscurity during the 80s, cleverly reinvented itself as a lifestyle brand during the 90s and now positions itself at the cutting edge of casual wear.
Founded in 1948 in Herzogenaurach, Germany, the brand initially concentrated on performance sportswear. Its running shoes and football boots - worn by Olympic champion Tommy Smith and the great footballer Pele - gradually established the 'form stripe' design as a global classic.
During the 70s, Puma's 'leaping cat' logo on basketball and tennis ranges became synonymous with urban cool. However, as the international sportswear mass market began to accelerate and global sports logos became the norm, the relatively small Puma suffered.
Puma realised it was far from a traditional sportswear company and after years of striving for a more unique identify it came up with a successful formula for 'mixing up' sports and fashion.
Partnerships with musicians and artists began to pay off with the return of heritage shoe styles and Puma's ground-breaking development of sport-fashion collections.
During the late 90s, Puma grew market share and the logo was adopted as an underground alternative to an overheated sportswear market.
New advertising, retail formats in key cities and web sites were based around a new understanding of the way consumers react to the brand.
Puma gained credibility in the UK dance music scene and it managed to sign up glamorous Arsenal striker Robert Pires.
Look around top sports and footwear stores today and Puma has pride of place alongside Adidas and Nike.
This year Puma has followed through with innovations that are a clear departure from sportswear. These include a 26-piece 'modular fashion menswear wardrobe for global business gypsies' called 96 Hours. The collection claims to provide everything that one would need for four days of business travel in a simple aluminium case.
Meanwhile, Puma's Nuala line of yoga-inspired clothing has been designed in co-operation with supermodel Christy Turlington.
Modern approaches to sport trainers have led to the development of the top-selling Mostro and Speed Cat products.
Courvoisier is a case study in how to evolve a distinguished history into a distinctively modern attitude.
Well over 200 years old, the brand was adopted by the US hip hop community as a status symbol during the 90s and celebrated in the song Pass the Courvoisier by Busta Rhymes and P Diddy.
Critically, Courvoisier's management subsequently adapted the brand's marketing to ensure it exploited the links while remaining relevant and exclusive.
Courvoisier is a Cognac, a brandy produced from the region just north of Bordeaux in the South-West of France, whose category name is legally protected.
The brand itself was created by Emmanuel Courvoisier, a wine and spirit merchant, who distributed the smooth amber-coloured liquor through the Gallois wholesalers in France.
Legend has it that in 1811 the Gallois family gave Napoleon several barrels of Cognac, which he took with him on his final journey with his English captors. An English officer, appreciating the rare pleasure, first named it 'The Brandy of Napoleon'.
In 1835 Felix Courvoisier and Louis Jules Gallois merged their businesses in the town of Jarnac, which remains the headquarters of Chateau Courvoisier.
They developed its distinctive product identity such as the 'Josephine' shaped bottle and the Napoleon silhouette on the logo.
Courvoisier now sells more than 13 million bottles per year in more than 140 countries. The International Wine and Spirit Competition named Courvoisier XO the best Cognac in the world in 1994 and awarded it a gold medal in 2002.
Courvoisier's marketers have gradually replaced 20th century images of country estates and log fires with images in line with new concepts of luxury and decadence.
The House of Courvoisier print campaign in 2000 successfully linked the brand's heritage with a sociable, fashionable and modern lifestyle.
It has also made great efforts to forge partnerships with the fashion music and media worlds.
In 2002 Courvoisier was the official spirit of New York Fashion Week and the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards after party. More recently the brand has teamed up with Sex and the City stylist Patricia Fields to create limited edition designer bottles, and with Agent Provocateur for a range of lingerie 'inspired by Napoleon'.
Tate has only really felt like a brand icon since the summer of 2000 when the Tate Modern, formerly Bankside Power Station, opened its doors with a glitzy party televised by the BBC.
Since then the family of museums - which also includes Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives - has adopted a powerful common identity with global appeal.
Of course the original Tate Gallery has long been a popular tourism attraction, which was augmented by Tate Liverpool in 1998 and the Cornish version five years earlier.
But it was Tate Modern that generated exciting new momentum. With its vast Turbine Hall, stunning position on the South Bank and series of avant garde exhibitions, the museum has already attracted more than 13 million visitors, making it the most popular modern art gallery in the world.
It has become the third most popular tourist attraction in Britain.
In March 2000, the Tate organisation created a Tate logo, font and colour palette which it said 'symbolised openness, change and vision'. At the same time it produced an award-winning web site, new signage at all four galleries and staff uniforms designed by Paul Smith.
The original Tate Gallery, still at its 19th century building a few miles further west on the Thames at Millbank, was renamed Tate Britain. It refocused on British art from 1500 and created a dramatic new entrance at Atterbury Street.
But the brand has felt more than a sum of its parts, particularly with the new 'Tate to Tate' boat service that runs daily during gallery hours and also stops at the British Airways London Eye.
The year 2000 saw a major advertising campaign using the strapline 'Look Again, Think Again'.
As well as collaborating with The Guardian - the media partner for the launch of its galleries - Tate has developed partnerships with a broad range of sexy brands, includ-ing Wagamama, Kirin Beer and Selfridges.
Research shows that international awareness of Tate Modern and Tate Britain grew 18% between 2000 and 2001 and continues to rise.
Ruby & millie
Described as 'real cosmetics for real women', Ruby & Millie is one of the most innovative brands to be launched in the international beauty sector for decades.
Created just five years ago, the range is now imitated by many mainstream brands and has set the standard for design in modern cosmetics.
The brand was created by Ruby Hammer, a make-up artist who created looks for designers including John Galliano and Ghost, and Millie Kendal, a beauty publicist who marketed brands such as Aveda and Shu Uemura.
After two years of development, Ruby & Millie unveiled their brand in 1998 at Harvey Nichols in London and Leeds.
They subsequently rolled it out at larger Boots stores nationwide, doubling the number of outlets by the end of 2000. Ruby & Millie then published a self-styled beauty book - Face Up - which coincided with the launch of their accessories range available in 400 stores.
Packaging, co-designed by Wright & Teague, uses a combination of mirrored and transparent materials intended to represent the individual's identity.
Equally important to its success is its innovative sales environment.
Boutiques were designed with the aim of being a 'playground' for women to have fun and experiment, abandoning the hard sell and complex makeovers that were encountered in traditional department stores.
Ruby & Millie came up with the concept of an in-store 'make-up adviser' who gives friendly advice and solutions to shoppers' specific problems.
The advisers treat the work area as a dressing table and use the mirror to show customers how to apply their own make-up, using their face as 'an experimental canvas'.
The brand claims it's all about 'the freedom to choose who you want to be today' and women of all age groups continue to buy into this concept.
What makes a brand cool?
To discover what gives a brand cool credentials, The Brand Council commissioned Research International to survey more than 300 British ABC1 consumers, aged 18 to 30, and with an equal split between men and women.
The research found that consumers are, more than anything, looking for uniqueness and originality. Thirty-eight per cent of consumers cited these as the most important factors in making a brand cool.
It was particularly important for women, with almost half (47%) of females stressing uniqueness as the essential cool element, compared with 30% of males.
Men were more concerned about innovation, the second most important 'cool factor' overall, with 30% males stating this as the main prerequisite.
Authenticity; flying in the face of convention; wit; and effortlessness were also critical factors for British consumers.
"A cool brand has to have its own personality and retain its individuality in an ever-changing environment," says Siobhan Curtin, marketing manager for Piaggio, which markets the enduringly chic Vespa brand. "It has to retain an air of exclusivity, but at the same time appear to be achievable to everyone." This is far from easy. Indeed an indication of just how tough it is to maintain cool status, is that out of all the brands that qualified for Cool Brand Leader status last year, less than half proved successful this time around.
The survey reveals the main pitfalls for Cool Brand Leaders as: losing their distinct identity (62% of consumers cited this); lack of innovation (62%); and becoming too mainstream (60%).
Many of the heads of brands that have retained their cutting edge also warn about preaching to consumers, which can be tough, with inevitable tension emerging as brands become bigger and stakeholders more demanding.
Diesel, the Italian clothing brand created almost 25 years ago, appears to have struck the right formula, with consumers voting it the coolest brand in fashion and beauty.
Daniel Barton, head of marketing & communications for Diesel Group UK, says: "Thanks to media obsession with celebrity and product placement, cool has started moving into mainstream consciousness very quickly. It lasts about as long as milk before it is forgotten and deemed 'so last week'.
A more long-lasting version can be achieved by avoiding the intoxication of the mainstream media spotlight for as long as possible and relying on word of (relevant) mouth to achieve cool status."
Indeed the survey shows that word of mouth, whether that's the endorsement of friends or family, is the dominant way that consumers become aware of a brand that they perceive as cool. Eighty per cent cited this, compared with 56% citing advertising.
The research throws up an interesting difference between the sexes here, with almost half (46%) of women saying they become aware of cool brands through celebrities, compared with only 18% of men. Men prefer to convince themselves that they've "discovered a brand by themselves" (56%).
"A new generation of coolies have emerged who exude an effortless sense of personal style and individual expression," believes Karen Birch, marketing director for Kangol, another top five cool fashion brand according to the survey.
"They seek out anything that appeals to them, resulting in an eclectic mixture of tastes from the very new and undiscovered to the institutional."
Birch concludes that the solution, in brand terms, is a return to pure, honest product design, quality and reputation.
This is endorsed by a trend toward consumers voting for design-led brands this year. The fresh and distinctive VW Beetle and Audi cars were favoured in the vehicles sector, Tate and British Airways London Eye came top of the 'coolest places' category and Sony, Bang & Olufsen and Denon were deemed the 'coolest household good brands'.
Consumers, it seems, are not averse to brands simply because they are big. Sixty-one per cent of those surveyed admitted that cool brands are often very mainstream brands.
And an overwhelming majority (70%) agreed that certain brands can be considered cool regardless of how old they are, or how long they have been around.
Finally, is it really worth all the effort in achieving 'cool' status?
Probably. Fifty-one per cent of those questioned said they would be willing to pay a premium for a brand they perceived as cool.
The Cool List
Bang & Olufsen
British Airways London Eye
Dazed & Confused
Goldsmiths College, University of London
Moet & Chandon
Morgan Motor Company
Ruby & Millie
Smiths of Smithfield
Volkswagen New Beetle Cabriolet