Of all audiences where cool matters most, teens are the most exceedingly coveted and highly targeted of them all. Brands have bombarded teens with viral videos, music promotions, event sponsorships, celebrity endorsements, and movie promotions, so that they can attach their brand to something cool. Sometimes they end up looking desperate, and sometimes they end up looking awesome. As our current teenage audience becomes savvier about marketing, it is important to understand how the modern teenager defines cool.
To the modern teenagers, a brand is seen as cool if it:
Doesn't try too hard to make a statement
Teens find it uncool for a brand to try too hard to be seen a certain way. If the positioning of the brand is right, it will work, but brands that seem desperate are making themselves uncool by trying too hard.
Teens don't think in :30, :60, and full-color vs. B&W. They take a holistic view at how brands are conveying their beliefs and aspirations, and they expect creativity. They don't want to see brands copying what other brands do to be seen as cool or always following a traditional model of business. They want the brand to start from scratch and think like a revolutionary and an artist.
Focuses on innovation over improvement
Teens are not as quick to upgrade to the newest version of a product, usually because the brand just made simple improvements that don't make a large enough impact. Brands that are consistently innovative are seen as the coolest, and brands that just add new features become boring.
Merges branding and personalization
Logo saturation has quickly become the anti-cool. Teens of the '90s used brand logos to define themselves, but now more teens focus on creating their own individual style. Customization of products helps them express themselves more than the name on the packaging. Very few brands are seen as cool enough for teens to plaster their logo everywhere.
Teens are the first to call bull on your marketing. They're marketed at too much to care about inauthentic and far-fetched claims. They want brands to be real with them and respect their intellect. This applies not only to marketing efforts, but also the way the brand communicates about its business practices.
Teens do not like corporate greed. They want brands to give back. In the past, going green and sponsoring charity events was enough, but today's teen expects deeper integration into a company's business model. They see right through inauthentic CSR efforts.
Many people develop long-term attachments to brands during their teens. As technology and social behaviors evolve, brands need to create new models to define themselves and find their cool factor. Every brand has the opportunity to do something cool as long as they remember that cool is not a cut-and-paste job.