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.



There are 18 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Excellent! Constantly circa 90% of FMCG launches end in failure within a year, suggest someone in research should research that 🙂 Or is that like asking Tony Blair to lead the Chilcot inquiry?

  2. Jonathan Cahill 30 Sep 2015

    Great and refreshing. It would be much appreciated if Mark Ritson could apply similar invective to the way that the brand value charts are reported. This presents them as actual values as opposed to estimates which, despite their analytical smokescreens, have their roots in similarly subjective opinions.

    They are interesting but not absolute.

  3. In our market society the problem with this sort of spurious nonsense (the CoolBrands survey, not your article Mark) is the demand for this kind of tabloid supply fodder – lazy journalists and naive marketers who think that being ‘cool’ and somehow enigmatic is more valuable than being a little bit dull but enduringly successful.

  4. tony stuart-brown 30 Sep 2015

    Couldn’t agree more Mark. The well honed invective is only lessened (or maybe strengthened) by the fact that directly underneath the article is a link to a story ‘I might also like’ on MW entitled.”Luxury brands lose their ‘cool’ status as digital challengers climb the ranks.”

  5. S I Bouvet 30 Sep 2015

    Just picking myself up from the floor from laughing so much! I could not agree more – what a sham this piece of ‘research’ is and how patronising! I’m increasingly disappointed with the reporting in MK of late – particularly how unbalanced the articles. Where is the critique, comparison and context? Or are they deliberately dumbing down articles to appeal to what they believe is an increasingly naive marketing audience? Come on MW, be the authority on marketing that you should be and stop relying solely on Mark to tell it as it really is!

  6. andrew stothert 30 Sep 2015

    that is genius! This is just another one of those “if in doubt let’s do a
    survey” PR generating stories. The really cool brands (whatever that means) don’t
    need to be assessed by this random methodology, they just are cool and it is
    their consumers that know that better than any “expert”. My question
    is why have they made it so naively narrow band? Is a brand that is cool to a
    teenager, cool to a child or even a grandparent? Whatever happened to life
    stage and attitudes in the debate?

    By the
    way Iceland mini kievs are super cool and can be cooked straight from the

    Thanks as ever for a laugh out loud and truly refreshing piece.

  7. greggerypeccary 30 Sep 2015

    A ridiculous piece of research without validity, created using unreliable methodology? The Daily Mail, you say?

  8. Cuts through the crap as usual. And great to see Blackburn Rovers in the Top 10 for a change!

  9. Michael 30 Sep 2015

    ‘Ace Hotel’ at number 17. What!?! Based on what, a survey of 2,500 residents of Shoreditch? Totally meaningless.

  10. Adrian Baldwin 2 Oct 2015

    Another thoroughly entertaining post, thank you Mark. I’ll
    admit though that I had my fingers crossed that this week might see an article about the future reputation/branding impacts for the VW Group of rigging emissions data. I note that VW/Audi/Skoda/SEAT are absent from CoolBrands’ top 20.

    It is going to be fascinating to see how the debacle unfolds
    for the group – what are your predictions? Is it worth assessing Asia’s gut
    feel on this one… though the whole thing already reeks of poo?

  11. Richard 4 Oct 2015

    You, sir, are a legend.

  12. James Kydd 4 Oct 2015

    In the early 2000s, Virgin Mobile was granted CoolBrand status and asked to pay the various costs to be featured in the CoolBrands book. We were about to float so thought it was maybe worth it, even though it felt odd to be paying for the privilege of being seen as a CoolBrand The next year (obviously having been proven to be super gullible) we were voted in again. This time common sense prevailed and we declined to pay so we weren’t then included. In fact we kept on declining year after year.

    It is just a scam but it has spawned alot of other similar schemes. I’m now at Purplebricks and we were recently voted ‘Most Outstanding estate agent in the UK’ in the ‘Innovation and Excellence awards’ and were given the opportunity to purchase a Personalised Luxury Wall Plaque – £375 – Inclusive of p&p or
    Personalised Innovation & Excellence award winners Moët & Chandon Champagne – £695 – inclusive of p&p
    A wooden case of six bottles of personalised bottles of 750ml Moët & Chandon Rose Imperial.

    Whilst the temptation was huge, we resisted….

  13. BrendaKilgour 4 Oct 2015

    Simply brilliant methodology. BUT what kind of whisky? Scotch? Irish? Canadian? Kentucky bourbon? The potential impact on the results is obvious.

  14. Shanghai61 5 Oct 2015

    I hadn’t heard of ‘Coolbrands’ before reading this, so feeling curious, I looked them up. Surprise, surprise – it’s part of the global ‘Superbrands’ vanity publishing empire. You too can be a ‘Superbrand’ but only if you stump up.

    In China, you can buy a certificate from the Government that says you are a ‘famous Chinese brand’, whether anyone has ever heard of you or not. I always laughed at the thought of this, but Superbrands has turned it into a global business model.

  15. Zena 5 Oct 2015

    Agree with everything except ‘methodology’. Someone I respect once pointed out to me that methodology is the study of method. Sadly, most people add ‘ology’ nowadays for no particular reason.

  16. Felipe Grey 5 Oct 2015

    The ‘method’ behind cool brands is just as shaky as the ‘science’ behind the CO2 scam. If the observations do not match the preconceived consensus, models or forecasts, just fudge the data, skew the observations with opinionated manipulation by ‘experts’ and call anyone who does not agree with you horrible names. Mark Ritson, I suspect you are about to be targeted for vitriolic abuse from the ‘brand’ industry just like that other op-ed writer Mark Steyn was after criticising MIckey Mann’s hockey stick.

  17. Al King 6 Oct 2015

    Your finest yet. Tears.

Leave a comment