4. The cool kid quotient.
As I child I moved around a lot. By my teens I had attended ten different schools in different parts of the world, let alone the country. (The above in Lower Hutt, New Zealand.) Out of necessity and a sense of survival you learn to recognise certain personality types and roles that dominate playground politics.
Pupil population is nothing short of tribal.
I’m sure you remember it well. The tribes may assume different titles over time. And the segmentations may vary in style from school to school. But the underlaying distinctions fall in to similar categories. Certainly that was the case in every school I attended.
The lines between these tribal groups blur as we grow physically and in experience. The distinctions soon become less obvious as the complexity of our hierarchy of consideration increases in sophistication. But at school between the ages of, say, seven to sixteen, these are pretty basic.
Groups tend to cluster around level of intelligence, aptitude, attitude to authority, socio-economics, style choice (from music to fashion), physical prowess, and so on.
Without leaping lemming-like into a Pandora’s box of political incorrectness, I want to focus on one type of student who tends to reign supreme. Their dominance in the male population comes from a combination of strength and audacity.
Usually with a small entourage of less capable supporters in tow who are there to admire and justify, by their stolid presence in support, whatever course of action takes the alpha’s fancy – from bullying to bunking off. They may be intelligent or street smart or both. Moreover, they are the ones prepared to back up their status as leaders with physical aggression.
Female alphas add ‘attitude’ to physical dominance – which itself is often compounded by beauty and style or fashion-sense (and the money to maintain it).
But there’s another more pervasive dimension to their power – their forte for politicking.
In cybernetics the component with the highest repertoire of responses within a closed system dominates or controls it. This is known as requisite variety. And so it is within the female networks. Those girls with the greatest political repertoire are able to manipulate the group as they see fit. It can be brutally Machiavellian.
But I digress.
The point is that in that closed system of school life the are considered….
THE COOL KIDS.
Even if deep down we know sometimes they are just bullies, corrupted by their juvenile power. They are the kids others look to for direction – susceptible as we all are in those formative years. A time when we are particularly unsure of ourselves. Our fledgling identities untried and trusted.
Either their willingness to do things their own way whatever the consequences propels them to the head of the pack. Or given their alpha status they gain a level of confidence to do things their own way, anyway.
Those with a wisdom that surely stretches beyond those purveyors of paltry parental cliches; the teachers.
Far more attractive and appealing are these brave young mavericks.
Those prepared to risk the fires of eternal damnation to brazenly…
WALK ON THE GRASS!
RUN WITH SCISSORS!
GET THEIR EAR PIERCED!
WEAR NON-REGULATION CREPE SOLED SHOES!
Or even (breath held in awe), SMOKE!!!
And if the cool kids do – others will too.
These young alpha males and females are kidadulthood’s early adopters. Its pioneers. Its challenger brands. Though don’t imagine this is al one-sided arrangement. The pack benefits from a diminished responsibility in thinking for themselves. It’s, after all, easier to follow the ones that seem to have all the answers than to forge your own path.
And where they lead, we sheep will follow. Sneaking excitedly into the bogs for a sneaky puff between classes. Or onto the number 12 to Brighton for a stolen day on the pier.
The degree of influence of the cool kid quotient cannot be underestimated.
Their command far greater than multi-million dollar advertising campaigns that are accused of corrupting the minds of the young.
I doubt cigarette advertising’s past influence on the yoof. Their metaphors and abstraction simply not included in the lexicon of teenage cool. On the other hand, the alpha model established in the primitive society we all experience as school children, transfers seamlessly to the ‘cool kids’ of life’s extended playground.
Those stars and personalities, public figures and (God forgive me) celebrities… that graces our multiple screens and magazines.
In addition to our ‘too-cool-for-school kids’, here are our prime suspects for enlisting generations of newbies into the ‘back of the bike sheds’ smoker’s club. And they propably influenced those school yard alphas in the first place.
But what does all this mean to communications?
What we are considering is a key model of influence.
Whether or not we succumbed to the trickle down peer pressure to take our first puff, most of us will remember the almost palpable power of it. And although as we enter broader society, peer groups grow in number and variety, the same dynamic prevails in a myriad of contexts. In every area of interest one person’s cool is another’s nerdy enthusiast.
In context cool has many faces.
For instance, who would be considered cool in the world of gardening?
What does cool look like to ornithologists?
Or amateur photographers?
Who, in the world of high-end home audio would constitute cool?
Identify the group’s equivalent of cool kids and you may have found a valuable advocate for your brand.
Or perhaps a identify personality to replicate in creating your own spokesman or woman for your brand. Whether literally or metaphorically these key influencers are the cool kids that the rest will follow and listen too. If you can enlist their help or encourage genuine interest in your product then their followers will, well, follow.
This is not a new notion in essence. We have been using celebrities to endorse products since advertising began. Or picking pretty (alpha) girls to attract attention by association. But times have moved on and we are now being far more category specific. Brands are now trying to enlist bloggers in every niche genre imaginable – hoping an association with their particular niche cool will reflect well upon them. So don’t be misled by appearances. “That little faggot got his own jet airplane. That little faggot he’s a millionaire” (Excerpt from ‘Money for Nothing’, D. Straits)
Here are some ‘cool kids’ from outside the cliche, who are considered ‘rock and roll’ in their respective fields.
Milton Erickson – The Daddy to hypnotherapists.
Pat Metheney Mr Cool himself to jazz guitarists.
King of the geeks, Sheldon Cooper.
Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the internet), to coders he’s The Undisputed King of Rock and Roll,
Monty Roberts. He’s the man, to Equine Behaviourists.
Zaha Hadid. An icon of cool in the world of Architecture.
Prof., Stephen Hawking. Kicks serious ass in theoretical physics and cosmology.
(And he’s been on the Simpsons)
Know your market and the movers and shakers and pundits that populate it.
Perhaps you could convince one of them to endorse you or become a spokesman for your brand. Be authentic and relevant and you may ride a building wave of brand advocacy all the way to an as yet unimagined, golden beach-head of success.
Or then again you could simply get a nice bit of earned media out of it – which is also nice.
And finally… a cool personal story.
My fourth child and only son was born premature. It was touch and go. During the life-threatening lead up to the c-section through which he was delivered in to the arms of the special care nurses, the rank of attending doctors went steadily up – till it got to the top notch specialist surgeon.
When this guy turned up there was a tangible sense of respect from the other health care professionals buzzing around. Reverence.
Yet what clothed this Knight in shining armour resembled something akin to faded green pyjamas and a pair of dodgy rubber clogs.
Not exactly Lancelot.
Hardly your first choice for accepting GQ’s man of the year award. But let me tell you, when I looked this guy up and down – the man who was potentially about to save the lives of my wife and child, he looked the every inch the coolest guy I had ever seen.
To this day if I was heading for a fancy dress party as a super hero I can’t think of a better outfit than some faded green jammies and dodgy green rubber clogs.
In the land of cool, my friends, context is King.
My son spent a few weeks in a Plastic Box in the special care unit with his distraught parents stroking him through a couple of hand sized holes in the side of the box wearing rubber gloves. He was small enough to lay in the palm of my hand. Optimistically we named him, MacKinlay, after the tallest mountain in America. It must have worked as he’s now a strapping 6ft 1″ 17 year with the nickname? Big Mac.
Thanks for reading.
If you would like help you with you brand communications please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org