The Trajectory of Cool - Strategic Marketing

The Trajectory of Cool

Do you remember what happened in 1992? McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in China, there was a 6.0 earthquake in California, Paul Simon was on tour in South Africa and Johnny Carson hosted his last Tonight Show.  Another event took place and might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been published in Vogue magazine – it was the death of Grunge.

Grunge was the name given to a music scene and a subculture.  It originated in Seattle and worked its way outward to the rest of the country, eventually seeping into the commercialized world of fashion.  The popularity of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam helped spread the trend and “Grunge” became cool.  It became so popular by the early nineties that even Vogue magazine picked up on it.  In December of 1992 Vogue published a photo spread featuring Naomi Campbell and Kristen McMenamy dressed in flannel skirts and combat boots.  People were now paying big bucks at the mall to dress like thrift store shoppers, and that was it – the beginning of the end of Grunge.

Trajectory of Cool
Vogue Magazine, December 1992 issue, photo by Steven Meisel.

Once a trend reaches a certain level of popularity, it can do one of two things – it can become an iconic classic or it can join the of ranks of has-beens, soon to be scoffed at by the very people who once knocked each other over trying to get it.  A feature in Vogue magazine has a way of catapulting a trend out of the realm of obscurity and into the spotlight of mainstream culture, and this is what happened to Grunge.  The popularity that pushed it into a Steven Meisel photo shoot was the same popularity that eventually killed its cool by taking its edge away.

One trend that is in no danger of fading out is the proliferation of smartphones.  It can be said with certainty at this point that smartphones have completed the transition from trend to mainstay.  Usually, once your grandmother starts using a product, it either means the product is no longer novel enough to be considered “cool” or it is now so ingrained in the culture that there is no turning back.  Smartphones belong in the latter group.  Now that it’s not just technophiles and early adopters who have them, we are starting to see what kind of effect they have on our everyday lives.  In the May 9th issue of Rolling Stone magazine, when asked about how the world is going to be different in the future, musician and entrepreneur Will  says, “If you want to see the future, go to South Korea for a few months.” He posits that in the future, “Everybody’s going to be purchasing things with their phones.  When you walk out of a grocery store with some milk, just by walking out, you’ve purchased it, because the front door’s going to have NFC capability that charges your account.”

So what does this mean to us? It means we are only seeing the very beginning of what smartphones will be capable of.  It means we’ll have new marketing opportunities that we haven’t even imagined yet.  It means that, unlike a photo of you in a flannel skirt and combat boots, a picture of you talking on your smartphone isn’t going to make you cringe 20 years from now.