Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.
What Makes Things Cool? How Autonomy Influences Perceived Coolness Author(s): Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 41, No. 2 (August 2014), pp. 543-563 Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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What Makes Things Cool? How Autonomy
Inﬂuences Perceived Coolness
MARGARET C. CAMPBELL
Despite assertions that coolness sells products, little is known about what leads consumers to perceive brands as cool. This research uses an experimental approach to examine the empirical relationship between consumers’ inferences of autonomy and perceived coolness. Six studies ﬁnd that behaviors expressing autonomy increase perceived coolness, but only when the autonomy seems appropriate. Autonomy seems appropriate, and hence increases perceptions of coolness, when a behavior diverges from a norm considered unnecessary or illegitimate, when the autonomy is bounded (i.e., deviations are small or occasional rather than large or perpetual), and when the consumer views social norms as being overly repressive. A ﬁnal experiment further supports the connection between autonomy and coolness and illustrates that coolness is distinct from liking by showing that whether a consumer has a goal to express autonomy moderates preference for cool brands.
keters. Second, it is not clear exactly what, in addition to being desirable, makes things cool.
In six experiments we demonstrate that consumers perceive cultural objects, including brands and people, to be cool when they infer that the object is autonomous (i.e.,
pursues its own motivations irrespective of the norms and
expectations of others) in an appropriate way. Consumers
infer that a brand (or person) is autonomous when its behaviors diverge from the norm. Autonomy seems appropriate, and thus leads to perceptions of coolness, when a divergent behavior is perceived to be at least as effective
or valuable as the normative behavior, it diverges from a
norm that is not considered legitimate, and divergence is
bounded rather than extreme. Moreover, consumers with
countercultural values, who are more critical of societal institutions and more likely to consider norm divergence appropriate than those without countercultural values, tend to perceive a relatively higher level of autonomy cool. We
further show that although cool brands are typically desired, coolness and desirability are not the same thing, as consumers prefer cool brands only when they want to stand out rather than ﬁt in.
he marketplace values cool brands. A cool image
helped solidify Harley Davidson’s status as an iconic
brand (Holt 2004), rejuvenate sales of Pabst Blue Ribbon
(Walker 2003), and vault Apple into the ranking of “the best global brand” of 2013 (Interbrand 2014). Coolness excites
consumers, adds symbolic currency to products, and drives
consumer trends (Frank 1997; Gladwell 1997; Heath and
Potter 2004; Leland 2004). Kerner and Pressman (2007, xii)
write, “our society is consumed with the...
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