So Cool, it’s Uncool

Do you know what an Internet “meme” is? Have you done the “Harlem Shake?” Do you understand the phrase “Do you even lift?” If your answer is “yes,” there’s a very good chance you value the nature of inclusivity that comes with online communities like Reddit, and respect the nature of phenomena that, although on a much larger scale, can still feel like an inside joke.

In an era of extreme connectivity, trends literally move at the speed of light, and brands often feel the need to capitalize on this “cool.” For example, I recently read an article that spoke of the “Harlem Shake” craze and how Pepsi was quick to act on the viral sensation.

Another example of jumping on the meme bandwagon is Brisk Iced Tea (interestingly, owned by Pepsi), and its adaptation of adapted the “Scumbag Steve” meme for what ultimately became a humorous advertisement for the brand’s product. Brisk even used the Internet slang “UR” in the ad.

My point in bringing up these seemingly meaningless nuggets of information is to beg the question, “When does trying to be cool become uncool?”

I would argue that brands might be doing more harm than good by trying to keep up with the speed of the Internet and attempting capitalize on cool. In the example of the “Harlem Shake” other bloggers suggest that this trend has already “jumped the shark,” and that the short half-life of the fad can be linked directly to its corporate adoption. Often, once a brand tries too hard to fit in, it ends up skewing its brand image, in effect alienating fans who feel like the brand’s trying too hard to connect with users. A message that feels forced will only define your image as “uncool”—a fate every brand fears.

So what does this mean for marketers?

Timeliness and messaging that resonates with your target audience is more important than ever. Social media has allowed marketers a chance to develop a symbiotic relationship with their customers, while responding to and sharing content in real time. The caveat to all of this is that brands must respect their role as a brand, as opposed to acting like a customer’s peer. Mailings, social communities, videos, mobile content, and real-time interactions through SMS campaigns and geolocation give plenty of avenues to reach your audience—via the medium of their choice—when and how they choose to be reached.

Campaigns that focus on capitalizing on the latest trends may be perceived as passé by the time their audience views them. Take the slew of Gangnam Style parodies last year. By the time many marketers created their own company take on the trend, Gangnam Style had already become uncool, and the brands that were late to the party became uncool by association…kind of like the middle-aged guy who still says “for shizzle.”

Consider the “Harlem Shake” as a cautionary tale and learn from it. Rather than trying to capitalize on the “hip factor,” consider other more effective ways to reach your audience using technology. Brands that create shareable material and make their own “memes” will see their content organically shared. Those will the brands that triumph. Just look at Old Spice.

I leave you with one of my favorite examples of a brand missing the mark in trying to keep up with the times. I give you RAProductions Pier 1 training video from 2001.

Matt Haskell is social media marketing manager at SourceLink, a marketing services provider focused on direct marketing utilizing customer intelligence, database marketing, and modeling and analytics. Follow the company on Twitter @SourceLink and find it on
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