Jun 4, 2010

Cool Doesn't Work Anymore

It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who’s convinced that they’re much cooler than you are.

But that’s exactly what I see far too many brands attempting to do on a daily basis.

Call it Award Show fever, NASCAR Blindness, or just plain hubris, but too many brands are speaking to their consumers in a voice that drips of upscale, urban, 30something hipster rather than the voice of the brand’s decidedly less hip consumers themselves.

And that Nike World Cup video (above) is not going to help.

With its millions of viral views, brand managers and creative directors worldwide are going to be viewing it as the gold standard.

Which is a huge mistake.

You see Nike is a Prom King brand. A brand people like because Nike’s discovered the secret sauce that makes people view them as “cool.” So they’ll want to pass around a Nike video because they get some sort of cool points for doing so.

Add the World Cup to that equation. Another Prom King brand, and, for anyone who remotely likes soccer, another source of cool. Factor in too the fact that the young male demo likes to share video, particularly video from brands that have a strong cool factor and you’ve got the perfect storm.

Which is not to take anything away from the actual video, which was exceedingly well done, but reality check: even a really bad Nike World Cup video would have gotten millions of hits. Having a really well done one probably doubled or even tripled what was destined to be a very large number.

The bigger problem, as I stated earlier, is that brands are going to start wanting “something like that Nike World Cup video... you know, the one with Homer Simpson in it.... it got 90 million viral hits.”

It’s the same speech an earlier generation of marketing and ad people got about the Apple 1984 spot.

But if you’re advertising corn chips or diapers or a cellphone service, you’re never going to get a Nike World Cup video. You’re just not cool enough. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The people who’ll pass along a Nike video are probably not as engaged or loyal as the people who’ll pass along a diaper video. Ditto joining a diaper brand Facebook page or or Twitter feed. Not that it’s hard, mind you; it’s just requires a little more courage than signing on with the World Cup and Nike

Now the easiest way to get someone feeling brave enough to pass on a diaper video or join a corn chip Facebook group is to speak to them in their own language, and show them the sorts of things they find amusing or clever.

While that should be glaringly obvious, it always amazes me how often it’s not: charged with coming up with “the next Nike World Cup” video, both agencies and marketers will roll out content that has the same sensibility and vibe as a video that successfully targeted young men and sports fans. Even if their target is old ladies who love gardening. (It doesn’t hurt that award shows tend to favor anything with this hipster sensibility.)

But that’s where the social web is different. Because unlike traditional push media, no one has to watch a video, let alone share it or post it to their Facebook wall. They have to want to do so and brands have to see it as a way to initiate a conversation. Not a literal “hi, how are you?” conversation (people get hung up on that) but a “you liked our funny video, maybe you’d like to vote on what our next flavor corn chip should be” conversation.

If you’ve been talking to the consumer in a voice that sounds like your brand, there’s a good chance they’ll say “why yes, thank you.” But if you’ve been talking to them in a voice that sounds like Nike World Cup soccer, they’re not sticking around long enough to even hear the question.

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