Flubbed Hub: Job Opening at Wal-Mart, Coolness Coach

by Marianne Richmond on October 4, 2006

Mashable said today that Wal-Mart’s uncool social network, the Hub was off-line.

Despite all the evidence I try to present them with, my two teenage sons assure me frequently ( and dismissively) that I am not cool. However, anyone could have told Wal-Mart that the Hub was going to be a flub…it screamed, "don’t get it." It was simply the antithesis of cool. As I wrote in July,

"I am not sure what research Wal-Mart, Penneys, or their agencies have been reading about teenagers BUT they might just want to check YPulse , Pew Internet, or the seven ways to make an impact with teens from the Y&R Brand Asset Valuator;or do a little research on your own by visiting MySpace or finding a teenager and talking to them face-to-face."

Jennifer Rice discussed the recent trend of brand’s longing to be cool mentioning HP wanting to be cool like Apple, McDonald’s attempt to hire rappers to rap about them, and Wal-mart’s Hub. Jennifer’s says that the ticket is "Authenticity, originality and uniqueness. If your brand doesn’t inherently have these traits, please… don’t attempt to be cool." Her suggestion is to forget trying to morph uncool into cool with an existing brand, create a new one. I would only ad that understanding cool would be required in that case also.

Pete Cashmore’s Mashable writes Wal-Mart totally misunderstood what’s cool and despite the fact that Wal-Mart itself is not cool, pursuing a social networking marketing strategy could be successful if executed differently. He suggests that since they sell cool things such as DVDs, MP3 players and CDs that they could perhaps build a more successful social network strategy around some cool products. His closing advice was, "Making WalMart cool is a big challenge and one that probably shouldn’t be tackled by out of touch marketers riding skateboards and listening to Avril Lavigne.

OK, but is there more to this than "cool"? Is it an example of old marketing not getting new marketing? Well, that’s part of it. But, it seems to me that maybe it’s just bad marketing and bad branding.

 Remember the thing about relevance and connection between your product and your target audience… and creating advertising in that place that brings the meaning of that to life? That would be good branding.

Now, add in the new consumer. The cool new consumer. Cool because they are in charge. Call it marketing without marketing. Call it word of mouth marketing. Call it Brand Hijack.

 And to quote Alex Wipperfurth, "Bottom line, don’t ever go for cool. It’s limiting (niche audience), and quite frankly, Mr. Brand Owner, who appointed you God? You cannot appoint yourself cool, it has to be bestowed on you by the market.

Or, hire a coolness coach.

Suggested references: PBS, The Merchants of Cool, Brand Hijack, Alex Wipperfurth and How Cults Seduce

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