Car makers know very well that, to survive in tough economic conditions, being cool is a big deal. So why do they get it so badly wrong so much of the time?
The Air Bag: How to achieve that cool quality
Cool. Are you? I'm not talking about your temperature, I'm talking about that elusive quality that so many of us strive to achieve yet so few of us manage to pull off. Are you cool? I know I'm not and never will be.
Coolness should not be forced - it should come across quite naturally. Steve McQueen was a very cool dude but Tom Cruise? Nah. Apple products are so cool it hurts but what about a brand like Samsung? Forget it. Coolness is quite intangible. I mean, how do you actually define it? And when we're talking cars or motorcycles, what you think is cool won't necessarily be thought about in the same glowing terms by the next person.
Yet every year, the CoolBrands organisation in the UK produces its definitive list of what's cool. And just a couple of weeks ago it published its 10th annual list of the coolest brands in existence. For the fifth time in six years, a car manufacturer came out top: Aston Martin. It's an amazing accolade for a company that, until quite recently, was seen as stuffy, old fashioned and outmoded. Aston's transformation into what it is today has been rapid and enormously successful, and its coolness is something most car companies would love to achieve yet, like me, probably never will.
Are Ferraris cool? No. Lamborghinis? Hardly. Bentleys? The recent Brooklands was pretty cool but the rest of the range, as desirable as it is, isn't. Yet car makers know very well that, to survive in tough economic conditions, being cool is a big deal. So why do they get it so badly wrong so much of the time?
Some car companies try to market their wares as being cool. They will spend millions of dollars in advertising trying to telling you how desirable their car is and why you can't be seen in anything else. The problem is, that doesn't work: telling people you're cool is about the least cool thing you can do. They seem to miss the whole point about being cool.
What these companies strive for is a more youthful customer base. They recognise that to enjoy growth they need to appeal to people that haven't reached retirement age; people that are movers, shakers and opinion formers in their own right. These customers know what's cool and what's not - they don't need to be told, they just know.
Aston Martin is a cool brand because its cars are so utterly beautiful and desirable that they make grown men and women weak at the knees. Granted, the Cygnet city car is not cool at all but the brand is still seen by a panel of 37 experts in fashion, design and media, as well as 2,000 members of the public, as being very cool.
Astons don't shout their presence like Italian supercars, they just draw you in, seducing onlookers with sculptural lines that, no matter what angle they're viewed from, work perfectly. And this is what other manufacturers need to work towards: harmonious, beautiful design. Jaguar woke up to the fact that its cars were totally uncool about 10 years ago and look at them now. With the XF alone, Jaguar managed to reduce the average age of its customers by 10 years. It's seen as a youthful, vibrant company that produces extremely desirable cars and I wouldn't be surprised if it manages to top the annual CoolBrands list in the near future.
So all you car companies out there, stop showing off, stop telling us you're cool when it's obvious you're not. Get your designs right, make your products drop dead gorgeous and enjoy the results. If Apple can do it, so can you.