Mark Ritson: CoolBrands’ bananas methodology is a stain on modern branding

Once again CoolBrands has released its list of the ‘coolest brands’ in the UK and once again marketers should hang their heads in shame – and once again our branding correspondent loses the plot.



It’s officially my least favourite week of the branding year because CoolBrands has dirtied the marketing doorstep with its ridiculous list of the 20 “coolest brands” once again. The same bananas methodology has produced an entirely arbitrary list of brands which has then been analysed by the media to produce an array of incredibly specious insights. The whole sordid cycle is a stain on modern branding.

Let’s start by examining the CoolBrands methodology – and I use that word loosely. First, let’s recruit an “expert council” consisting of 36 vaguely famous assistant editors and TV presenters like Laura Jackson and RADA-trained actor David Harewood. Why 36 of them? Why not 75? Or 12? And why Laura Jackson and not Christine Bleakley? Is she cooler? Who decides?

Next, let’s ask these celebrities to accept that cool equates to style, innovation, originality and authenticity and then get them to rate more than 1,000 brands on a 1 to 10 scale. Why not a 1 to 7 Likert scale? Why not use multidimensional scaling? Why cue them with a definition of what cool means rather than go with a subjective gestalt? Where do the four defining characteristics of cool come from?

Then, let’s broaden the sample to include an online panel of 2,500 UK citizens. Let’s weight that sample at 15% of the final weighting of “coolness” and assign the remaining 85% of the score to the 36 members of the expert council. Why that ratio? Why not 50:50? Why not 42.5% to 57.5%? Why even bother using a representative sample of the British population if you are going to weight it as only one sixth as valuable as a totally arbitrary, unrepresentative “expert” sample?

On the back of this entirely nonsensical research design one might expect some pretty ridiculous results to emerge, and the 2016 results do not disappoint. You measure an approach like CoolBrands as you would any other quantitative scale – on the reliability and validity of what it purports to measure.

In terms of reliability, CoolBrands performs appallingly. There is no more stable brand in the marketing universe than Rolex. In fact, it is stable to the point of tedium. Over the last six years, starting in 2010, Rolex has been ranked by CoolBrands as outside the top 20, 4th, out of the top 20, 3rd, 9th and now out of the ranking again. Either Rolex’s cool status is shooting up and down like a badly made firecracker or something is wrong with the way CoolBrands measures cool.

In terms of validity, things look even worse. How about the face validity of a 2009 ranking in which Apple was beaten into third place by the iPhone. Eh? Or how do you feel about the 2010 result that saw the BBC iPlayer ranked as significantly cooler than Chanel? What? Or the fact that after spending 144 years quietly overlooking Kensington Gardens, the Royal Albert Hall has suddenly become the 13th coolest brand in the UK? The Royal fucking Albert Hall? Cooler than Net-a-Porter, Burberry or Tesla. Sorry?

Of course, all this methodological wank and rankings insanity has not prevented umpteen media titles from covering this garbage again this year. Hey, if it’s a top 20 then it must be rigorous. Right? The Daily Mail, Sky News, Daily Telegraph and all the major marketing titles analysed the 2015 CoolBrands rankings like modern day soothsayers examining the entrails of a giant, recently deceased cock.

The results clearly pointed to some major conclusions. Luxury brands are on the wane “despite the improving economy”. Netflix and Instagram are showing “clear momentum”. Google is “slipping”. Apple has maintained is status as “the king of cool”. Rolex has been “unceremoniously dumped” from the top 20 in a sign of its decreasing appeal. And I, dear reader, am the Duke of Northamptonshire and live in a shoe on the moon.

When will the madness that is CoolBrands ever end? Perhaps the only option is not to deride it but rather supplant it – with an even battier approach.

So I’d like to announce a new ranking system called AwesomeBrands. My methodology involves first asking my dad and his mate Brian to drink a whole bottle of whisky. Then I ask them to create a list of 100 brands by shouting random words into Google’s voice recognition software while the Shirley Bassey hit ‘Goldfinger’ plays at full volume in the background. Finally, my dog Asia eats the list of brands and I await the resulting shortlist appearing on my front garden approximately six to eight hours later.

So here they are, direct from Asia, this year’s Top 10 AwesomeBrands. I thank you.

Ritson Awesome brands

Mark Ritson will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing in November. For more information and to get tickets click here.