An examination of 'cool' brands and the decline of a once loved company
The publication last week of the so called 'CoolBrands' list provided an indication of the products and/or services that are considered to be "cool."
Cool is an adjective that is now commonly used to mean a number of things though normally meaning something positive and, in this context, is indicative of being considered to be really good.
The judging was a pretty thorough affair and involved a panel of experts, including so called 'style gurus', designers and actors considered to be "key influencers", who using criteria (see below), reduced a list of over 10,000 brands to 1,200 which were then judged by almost 3,000 British consumers.
The criteria against which judging took place included, style, innovation, originality, authenticity, desirability and uniqueness.
As such, if you company is included on the list it provides a major fillip to your marketing campaign and, of course, allows you to luxuriate in being seen something that is considered, at least by the panel of judging experts, to be highly desirable.
So, the top 20 brands considered to be cool are:
3. Aston Martin
6. BBC iPlayer
8. Virgin Atlantic
9. Bang & Olufsen
15. Ben & Jerry's
A number of observations have been mad about this year's list; most especially that many luxury brands are no longer seen to be cool and have been replaced by those which are seen to be much more affordable.
So, as can be seem from the list above, Apple, which is currently also the world's most valuable brand, is considered to be the 'coolest'
Significantly, the brand considered to be coolest last year was Aston Martin, a product that though it might be considered to be highly desirable by many, is unaffordable for the vast majority of the public.
Indeed, many 'luxury' brands that were previously in the top 20 are no longer included such as luxury car makers Ferrari and Maserati and fashion houses Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Vivienne Westwood.
Instead, this year's list includes brands that, for most of us, are free and therefore we will have had some contact with; YouTube, Twitter, Google, BBC iPlayer and Skype.
Even those brands that we need to pay for, Glastonbury festival, Virgin Atlantic, (upmarket) hi-fi maker Bang & Olufsen ,department store Liberty, Sony, Bose, Haagen-Dazs, Selfridges, Ben & Jerry's, Mercedes-Benz, Vogue, Nike and Nikon are not as unaffordable for the majority of us as buying an Aston Martin car would be.
This would suggest that given the increasingly difficult economic times we are experiencing, there is a shift in perception of what is considered to be cool.
As Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the CoolBrands Expert Council, believes:
"It's interesting that in this age of austerity our perception of cool has increasingly shifted from aspirational, luxury brands to free more affordable brands that provide us with pleasure. The presence of the online brands like BBC iPlayer, Twitter, YouTube and Skype are a great case in point."
It is interesting to note Cheliotis' use of the word "pleasure".
However, it is sad to note the very worrying news concerning what was used to be considered a great British brand that, certainly for people of my age, has provided very great pleasure. Worse, the major reason for this company's decline in share value is, ironically, its belief that the excitement in the British public in the staging of the London Olympics would translate into buying its products.
The company is Hornby, the model maker which last Tuesday admitted that it will make a loss of £1 million largely due to the fact that a sales bonanza in collectables and toys it produced with the Olympic logo did not sell as well as had been anticipated.
Hornby has predicted that it would make a £2 million profit and the recent news has wiped a third off its share price.
Sadly, it seems, Hornby, a company that was started by Frank Hornby in 1901 when he patented Meccano, is not the only company that has lost out as a result of the Olympics which, I believe, allowed Britain to, perhaps temporarily, rediscover its belief in being 'cool'.
Therefore, it would appear, whatever we may have thought about the London Olympics, we did not feel the need to rush out to buy die-cast figurines of mascots Wenlock and Mandeville which, according to Hornby's website, would provide a "lasting legacy of a monumental moment in sporting history".
For those who are interested, Hornby offered a fleet of 40 different London taxis decorated in the livery of Olympic sports.
Like all British brands, Hornby is a name that has an interesting history.
Frank Hornby realised after the First World War started that there was a market for the model railways that children of my age who grew up in the 1960s used to marvel at. Though they were initially produced to operate by clockwork, they could run on electricity (and in recent years a 'safe' fuel that would produce in the vintage locomotive models real steam).
For those of my generation Hornby's reputation as an aspirational product was cemented by the fact that it also produced Dinky Toys, published a Meccano Magazine and made construction kits which may have been the catalyst for many of today's great engineers.
Hornby's factory in Binns Road Liverpool was a wondrous place and visiting it would have been similar to the experience of Charlie when he won the ticket to go to Willy Wonka's chocolate making plant.
However, Hornby was purchased by the three Lines brothers (who made Tri-ang toys) in 1964 who merged their toy making and moved train production to Margate. In 1971 Line brothers went bust and the train making part, which has always had an allure, was taken over by another company which also went bust in 1981.
The current Hornby is run by the management who bought the name from the receiver. In the 1990s decided that its 400 workers at Margate should be sacked and production outsourced to Guangdong in China.
As a result, nothing Horby makes is now made in this country and the only staff who remain, some 150, are administrative.
Hornby includes a fascinating collection of related companies. Scalextric - another brand name that is well known among men (boys) of a certain age - came with the merger with Tri-ang. Hornby also includes Corgi (ditto for Scalextric) and Airfix which well known for the models that need to be assembled (and painted) was founded by Nicholas Kove in 1939 to make air-filled toys.
Hornby acquired European model making companies, such as Jouef ("La passion des trains") in France, Electroten in Spain, Lima and Rivarossi in Italy and Arnold in Germany.
Significantly, apart from Airfix, which is made in India, the products of all the other companies in the Hornby 'stable' are, like the trains bearing the eponymous name, made in China.
I read an article a few months ago which recounted the story of a boy who had befriended prisoner of war who had been held in this country during the Second World War.
When the German prisoner returned home he would send the boy magnificent gifts of models that were being made in Germany. As was made clear, the German models were made to a much higher level of excellence in terms of detail than was capable by British workers.
The prowess of the German Mittelstand was obvious and model-making in this country was, even then, a dying profession.
Even more sadly, what the failure by Horny to sell its Olympic models demonstrates is that there is no 'coolness' to these products.
Indeed, Hornby had hoped that the zeitgeist of the London Olympics might make up for the decline in sales of its other lines such as Scalextric and Airfix which are no longer seen to be desirable to a generation of children who appear to spend their spare time on games consoles and in computer-based social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
There is a model that suggests there is a way of appreciating the desires of so called 'Generation Y' who are the 13-29 year olds and considered to be marketing and brand savvy.
In their book titled How Cool Brands Stay Hot, Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer (Kogan Page 2011) believe that their research into the psychology and behaviour of 'the Millennials' shows that there are five key aspects to assisting in understanding what drives 'brand leverage' among this generation.
Their so called CRUSH model suggests that was is offered needs to be seen as 'Cool', 'Real', 'Unique', has 'Self-brand identification', and will bring 'Happiness'
It would be interesting to see if the management at Hornby are willing to consider using this model to make their products as desirable and, to use the current vernacular, 'cool' as there were to children, though I accept it was largely boys, of my generation.
Unfortnately, I suspect, it may be too late and the digital age will mean that even though the sort of products that Hornby produces will always have buyers, the market will be perceived as idiosyncratic and so irrelevant as to be of no interest to a major manufacturer.
For me, the model cars and trains that I grew up admiring in the 1960s are still cool; regardless of whatever the current generation Y may believe.
I would suggest that we need to create greater emphasis and importance on the quirky, innovative and utterly amazing products, such as Hornby models, that we used to produce in this country.
These will not only give us pleasure but, if designed and made in the UK, will assist us in getting out of the current economic malaise that has resulted in the announcement of our current account balance deficit of £21 billion (5% of GDP).