Research & Insights

Hipsters: First To Adopt Latest Food, Clothes, Drinks. Maybe They’ll Set Trends Too On Avoiding Risky Behavior

New research about why some brands are perceived as “cool” suggests that people who keep up with the latest trends could be encouraged to steer clear of risky behavior through messaging campaigns that convince them it’s the hip thing to do.

Writing in the August 2014 issue of Journal of Consumer Research, Caleb Warren of Texas A&M University and Margaret C. Campbell of the University of Colorado discuss study results that found that brands that have an outlier image or reputation people appeal to people who associate themselves with a counterculture lifestyle.

“We were really interested in this idea of counterculturalism, or this idea that people differ in the extent to which they kind of buy into society’s norms, or think that society is a beneficial force as opposed to thinking that society is oppressive or controlling or overly limited,” says Dr. Campbell, one of the study’s authors.

“Hipsters are on the countercultural end of that spectrum. We showed that the point at which something is perceived as cool is more autonomous for people who are higher in counterculturalism than people who are lower in counterculturalism.”

Findings that show how by highlighting features of independence and uniqueness make brands appear cool, can also help public interest communicators create messages aimed at curbing risky behaviors. The key is to emphasize to target audiences that preferred behaviors are more autonomous and therefore cool.

Over the course of six studies, the researchers explored the brand choices of people who followed their own path.

In one study, participants were asked to evaluate an advertisement for a brand that advocated either breaking or following a dress code. Some participants read that the dress code existed for a legitimate reason (to honor war veterans), whereas others read that the dress code existed for an illegitimate reason (to honor a corrupt dictator). Results showed that breaking the dress code made the brand seem cooler when the dress code seemed unnecessary, but not when the dress code seemed legitimate.

Brands interested in showing how cool their products are can highlight features of independence and uniqueness. The authors also point out that it is difficult to be cool to everyone. That is, what is perceived as cool by one group of consumers may seem too deviant for another group. Finally, for policymakers hoping to curb risky behaviors, study results point out the benefits of messages that make desired behaviors more autonomous (and therefore cool) to the target audience.

“Collectively, our studies find that coolness is a subjective, positive trait perceived in people, brands, products, and trends that are autonomous in an appropriate way,” the study’s authors write.

Journal of Consumer Research, August 2014

Caleb Warren, Texas A&M University
Margaret C. Campbell, University of Colorado

Posted: August 11, 2014
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