A new generation of cool

Howard Parry-Husbands
By Howard Parry-Husbands | 30 May 2024
Howard Parry-Husbands.

What is cool? How do you know if the definition of cool has changed? How do you stay cool? Tough questions. Just ask Abe Simpson: “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!” Abe was a wise man but his dilemma can be resolved.

Historically, coolness has been about fitting in and conforming to mainstream styles and trends. Our recent research study called Love Song, in partnership with Secret Sounds Connect, shows that cool has changed: it’s now characterised by a blend of authenticity, individuality, and a healthy disregard for societal expectations – a fancy way of saying mainstream was hot and now it’s not – so really, it’s gone a bit punk.

The research uncovered that a whopping 70% of Aussies believe that true coolness stems from not caring what others think of you, having the ability to stand apart from the crowd and embrace one's uniqueness without validation from others.

While that might sound straight-forward enough, this play for authenticity is actually more complex and harder to fake. You can’t slap a “just be yourself” sticker on something and go about your business. The same goes for brands. Gen Z will see through cheap tricks so, instead, marketers need to look at where this shift is stemming from to really understand how brands and marketers can tap into the “new cool” to drive better results and build loyalty among the younger generations.

The research found that there is a growing importance placed on self-assurance and confidence in defining a person’s cool quotient. This sentiment was particularly high among Gen Z, with 62% prioritising standing out rather than blending in with society, compared to only 49% of Millennials.

Gen Z’s focus on individuality stems from growing up in an age of social media, where curating a perfectly manufactured image has been an exhausting standard (sorry Millennials). Gen Z sees right through these facades of perfection, with 87% saying they would rather be seen as authentic than cool (the irony here of course is that authenticity is inevitably cool, but that’s beside the point). The point is that in an era of filtered social media feeds, embracing imperfections can help brands foster more real, stronger connections with the audience.

There is also a widespread belief that the essence of cool lies in the unconventional and the absurd, with 58% of people associating coolness with a certain degree of eccentricity or outlandishness. This penchant for the unconventional is an opportunity for brands to experiment with daring marketing strategies or product designs that challenge the norm and capture the imagination of today's youth. Just look at Specsavers which, for some time now, has tapped into reactive marketing techniques by re-sharing funny, lo-fi posts from people in social media with content relative to glasses.

For brands that wants to really resonate with their audience – and Gen Z in particular – the key lies in striking a delicate balance between authenticity and imperfection.

While authenticity is prized, there's no denying the pressure to maintain an illusion of perfection, a pressure that can alienate young consumers craving genuine connections. This can be in the way of all manner of owned content, guerrilla marketing techniques, large-scale marketing campaigns or through the use of micro and nano-influencers who prioritise engagement over reach.

The evolution of coolness reflects a much broader shift in societal values and attitudes. So give that bizarre marketing idea a go. Shock, awe and delight your audience. Playing it safe can be so mainstream, and not cool.

Howard Parry-Husbands, CEO, Pollinate


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