Ten learnings on how #coolyouthbrands behave

I am well aware that writing a post about ‘cool’ is fraught with danger as it is such a subjective topic and is the topic of annual contemplation amongst cool hunters, psychologists and people way cooler than myself (that’s not that hard by the way :). Firstly, I’m no cool hunter, just an interested observer of youth culture and how brands are trying to stay relevant and meaningful in todays social world.

Having said that, I thought I’d put together some observations of brand behaviours I consider ‘cool’ in the youth marketing space. Here are 10 behaviours  in no particular order that brands I think are cool are displaying.  I’m sure there are others I’ve missed 🙂


  1. BELIEVE in something bigger than yourself, an ideal young people can belong to

Love her or loathe her, pop princess Lady Gaga is cool. She stands for something bigger than herself and has complete conviction in her beliefs, which young people gravitate towards. Her activism comes through in her lyrics/music videos giving her ‘little monsters’ something to belong to.

  1. Leverage MYTHOLOGY and MYSTIQUE in your brand narrative

One of my favourite Aussie brands is custom motorcycle brand Deus Ex Machina. They do a brilliant job of building an interesting, discoverable story around the brands origins. To me, they feel mysterious and never ever over market themselves. For youth brands, less is more in terms of the storytelling.

  1. Be ORIGINAL,  creating tales and crafted cult

It’s obvious, but originality is and always will be a key pillar of cool. A recent campaign by K Swiss really caught my attention. It’s polarising, but that’s what makes it cool.  To launch their Tubes shoe, they totally took the piss out of the corporate side of sport endorsement. They used Kenny Powers and crafted a highly engaging tale that’s generated a cult following in the US. Check it out here


Indie hipster brand, Converse do a great job of creating culture through their co-opting of hip hop music culture.  An oldie, but a goodie.

  1. Enable STIMULATION junkies to capture and share their lives

Make no mistake, Gen Y and Millenials are stimulation junkies. Boys and girls alike. They are hardwired for risk taking behaviour. So brands like Go Pro, have tapped into this behaviour and been the enabler for self expression. In the world of action sports, Go Pro cameras on your helmet are the must have item. They are becoming mainstream but still remain super cool. They are the perfect compliment to the Red Bull culture.

  1. Give youth genuine OWNERSHIP, appealing to the core and potential fans

 I think it’s such bullshit when people say cool brands have to be scarce. Brands like Modern Warfare 3 are perfect examples of a game which is appealing to both hardcore gamer and novice gamer like myself. Check out their recent epic spot here

  1. EMPOWER youth to do more, be more

 Youth movement,  One Young World is an annual summit where the leaders of tomorrow start leading, bring the best and brightest minds together to talk about stuff that really matters.

  1. Play a genuine role in making a SUBCULTURE better

 Many big brands try and co-opt a culture and piggy back on a trend. This is a major no no. Footlocker with their Sneakerpedia social wiki is genuinely making sneaker culture better by helping peeps keep on top of their sneaker game. Check it out here.

  1. AUTHENTICITY in being real and doing stuff, not preaching

It’s also noting, that I don’t believe ‘cool’ is reserved just for the fringe brands for the super early adopters. Thanks to social media ,cool is now diffused to mainstream so much quicker than say five years ago, so the incubation period for ‘cool’ is alot shorter. I also believe that it has and always will be typically the younger creative class that start cultural cool which brands then often co-opt.

  1. Help young people be more GENEROUS to their friends

In the social economy brands that help me do something of value for a friend are the brands are perceived as cool.


Would welcome thoughts on other brand behaviours people think cool brands are displaying.

This is what my mate Gunther does for fun on the weekend…

Gunther Pfrengle - free ride jet skiier...my next interview target

Gunther Pfrengle - free ride jet skiier...my next interview target

Check this out, Gunther (Butch) Pfrengle playing around on his jetski…he used to take me out on his waverunner as a kid. Since then  he’s  moved on to some serious moves and is a pioneer of free style jet skiing. I’m going to be interviewing him soon on the world of free style  jetskiing culture  here in OZ…but if you want to check out more of his work, ozfreeride.com ..will blow you away

Youth marketing is all about creating CULTURAL CAPITAL

I’ve been kicking around this idea for a while now. We all know that the key to youth marketing is to get youth talking to each other about your brand. Well, i think it has to go one step further, brands need to give youth ‘cultural capital’. It’s beyond just ‘stuff to talk about’, it’s far more about the CONTEXT of that conversation as to whether youth really swarm around your idea. One of the most fundamental youth needs is that of ‘belonging’, however now with web 2.0 and the new speed of which cool diffuses into popular culture, ‘being in the know’ is extremely important for youth. Being the first to discover something and being able to give your friends that info, gives you cultural capital and relevance within your tribe. You just have to look at how competitive youth are now on social networks, it’s almost a competition as to who is going to the best part, is going on the best holiday etc. Not being a part of that, sometimes means you’re an outcast within your tribe. So, marketers need to think about what cultural capital they are providing youth which gives them social status within their tribe. Start with the evergreen 6 key pillars of youth culture; MUSIC, GAMING, FASHION, TRAVEL, SPORT, ENTERTAINMENT and how you can create utility within these areas..or better yet, create new cultural phenom that gives youth cultural capital…Easy….

It’s cool to be a CHAMELEON

Young people today no longer identify themselves as belonging to one subculture. They’re no longer just an emo or surfer or skater or gamer. They can be all of the above, depending on their mood. They have SPLINTERED PERSONAS and see themselves as chameleons, constantly changing their colour and adapting. Rather than belong to one individual tribe, it’s now cool to belong to five or six, and it’s all about having different personas within those tribes. So on any one weekend, you could be hanging out with your gamer buddies, then jamming at a mates house listening to indy rock. The worst thing label for a 20 something is to be called ‘one dimensional’. Cool has always been about being authentic to your beliefs and having a clear point of view on the world. Now, cool is also defined by your CHAMELEON like behaviour, the ability to change your colour depending on the environment you’re in. Just look at Johnn Depp, the ultimate chameleon. According to Andy who owns ‘Playground Weekender’ in Australia, the most successful bands at youth festivals are the ones who constantly reinvent themselves and change their colour. Brands targeting young people must forget about the one size fits all model with youth, it’s all about how you can let them weave in and out of their different personas, as that is the ultimate form of self expression.

Coldplay, the coolest band in the world

Coldplay do 'Yellow' with big balls

Coldplay do 'Yellow' with big balls

Went to Coldplay last night, as expected it rocked. They brought a serious amount of energy to the crowd for over 2 hours. Loved it. If only I could be as cool as Chris Martin…He is charismatic yet completely controlled. He never takes himself too seriously, yet he is super confident. He even made a joke about the ‘apparent’ rivalry they have with U2 for title of the world’s biggest band. Even a bit of talent thrown in for good measure. Forget Jude Law, Clive Owen, Daniel Craig. Chris Martin is the modern day British Knight. Rock on