Pop Culture lives on coolness

Pop Culture relies on fashion sensabilitites

Volkswagen as pop culturePop culture is a risky brand business. I heard a report this morning on Marketplace about Volkswagen. Basically, the report focused on the effects of the VW settlement on the automaker’s product development pipeline. The reporter stated that the multi-billion dollar settlement would make the Volkswagen new model pipeline a bit bumpy. He said that it might put a crimp on the innovation that VW hopes to achieve to keep their product line COOL.

Cool is a scary word for me in the branding business because the idea of cool is all about making a connection to an aesthetic sensibility that is connected to personal taste in an odd way. In some ways, maybe many ways, cool can be defined as a fad.

Cool is hard to bank on in pop culture

What was cool yesterday in pop culture may not be cool today. What was once considered cool can digress into downright kitsch. If you want proof, take a trek to Graceland and – aside from the greatness of Elvis’s talent itself and the voyeuristic thrill of peering into the private life of a celebrity – you’ll find that there is NOTHING in that mansion that we covet today.

Graceland is Pop cultureWe don’t want the blue shag rugs or the clumsy devices that passed for high tech in the day. What was once cool (and even, in the case of Graceland, where no expense was spared) is just a pile of dated junk. Pop culture cool just does not have legs. Cool by definition is mercurial.

Apple used to be cool. Much of that coolness came from the charisma and genius of Steve Jobs. Since his death, Apple is just innovative and has yet to hit the mark with the same coolness that Steve naturally oozed and made Apple products de rigueur.

Cool can be a goal for some brands. But hitting that sweet spot is a difficult task in pop culture. Predicting success is even more difficult.

Recognizing what is cool and developing product to that standard is near impossible. The parent brand can deliver permission for its coolness but adoption of that next cool thing is more about happenstance.

But it is not just a problem with Pop Culture

Movies as pop cultureThink about this for a moment: The major movie studios try to produce blockbuster movies. While they may not use the word cool to describe their intent, you certainly would not be stretching the definition of coolness by thinking about it in terms of a movie’s appeal.

What interests me here is how often the movie industry misses the mark. The studios invest millions of dollars in a script, director, cinematographer and proven stars and still turn out a BUST. You would think, with all of their resources, they would have more hits than misses. But predicting popularity is that near impossible.

Brands that make their reputation and mark by being considered cool are only as valuable as their latest iteration. The rest is left up to chance.

Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew — Really?

There’s an age old adage I am fond of: “Because you can, should you?”

The phrase itself implies that you shouldn’t automatically do everything you might be thinking of doing. The result is not always beneficial nor additive.

And so, when I read that PepsiCo is trying out Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew on college students as a possible future blend, one of my favorite lines quickly came back to mind.

Aw, hell. Let's just combine the two and get it over with.
Aw, hell. Let’s just combine the two and get it over with.

It’s not that I don’t like Doritos while watching the game, or a Mountain Dew here or there (okay… I’m not a big fan of the soda). But really, mixing the two sounds revolting.

Said the folks over at PepsiCo: “We are always testing out new flavors of Mountain Dew, and giving our fans a voice in helping decide on the next new product has always been important to us.”

Okay, but is a concoction like this — one that is a worthy rival to say, “Freckle Juice” – worthy of any time or money at all? I mean seriously. I like beef jerky and root beer but I know better than to mix the two. I’d hope PepsiCo may have had the brains to realize that as well.

Added PepsiCo: “We opened up the Dew flavor vault and gave students a chance to try this Doritos-inspired flavor as part of a small program at colleges and universities.”

Thank God I am long out of college. I’d want no part of this taste test.