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Why Chasing “Cool” for Radio is a Fool’s Errand


There’s nothing less “cool” than a room full of 50-year-olds preaching the importance of making something “cool.”

And that happens all the time in the upper echelons of the radio industry, a place where the air must be thin enough to imagine that “cool” can be manufactured rather than earned.

I’m reminded of a brainstorming meeting many years ago: The client had a station mascot, a character in their logo. Management was obsessed with making that character more “cool” to the younger end of the target audience. And how did he do that? By adding some Foster Grants, a guitar, and a Hawaiian shirt, that’s how.


Or just a poseur who is trying too hard?

In an interesting post on what “cool” is, Co.Design identifies four main traits:

  1. First, cool is a social perception, not an inherent quality. That is, you don’t make something “cool” – you make something that is perceived as “cool.” So, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) has always been PBR, but it wasn’t cool until Portland hipsters embraced it.

  2. Second, coolness is relative. Pandora may be cooler than radio, but not cooler than an iPhone 6

  3. Third, coolness is almost universally positive

  4. Fourth, something that’s cool tends to diverge from the norm

And that last one appears to be key.

“Being cool requires a very delicate balance of doing something that shows that you go your own way and do your own thing, but you do it in a way that is socially desirable or at least acceptable,” [marketing scholar Caleb] Warren tells Co.Design.

That is, being extreme is actually less “cool” than being meaningfully different.

In our industry’s zeal to manufacture cool or to remake radio technology into something “cooler” (as long as it perpetuates the legacy distribution channel called “FM”) we obsess over technology because we wrongly think that’s what our audience obsesses over.

Technology for most consumers is not an end unto itself, it’s simply the shortest, easiest path between a problem and a solution.

Want to communicate with a friend? TXT them. It’s easier and faster than a call.

Want to know what your long distance friends are up to and to stay in touch with them? Check your Facebook newsfeed and “like” their photos.

Want to know what your commute time is? Google Now is there for you.

Want to know what to wear outside today? Fire up the Weather Channel app.

Want to hear a particular song right now? Hello Spotify!

Sure, there are the hard core technophiles who live life on the bleeding edge, but they are representative of the extreme, not the mass.

The reality is that if you solve a consumer’s problem, do it uniquely, do it easily, quickly, and conveniently, and make her feel better about herself and your brand in the process, you will be better than “cool.”

You will be important in her life. You will matter. She will seek you out, again and again.

That’s not about technology – it’s about what technology allows consumers to do that matters. “Cool” stuff fails every day – it’s the stuff that matters that endures.

What are you doing that matters? What are you doing that uniquely solves consumer problems? What are you doing that’s relevant? What are you doing that’s authentic?

There may be no “app for that.”

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