How do you define “cool?” A new paper tries—and succeeds

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“What makes things cool? What penumbral principle explains not only the marketing campaigns of Harley Davidson, Apple, and Dos Equis, but also the appeal of cowboys, James Dean, and Jennifer Lawrence? A new paper in the Journal of Consumer Research takes a stab at answering what might be an unanswerable question by studying how brands and companies become cool in the eyes of consumers. And, to my surprise, it’s decently plausible.

To understand their theory of cool, compare it to another possibly undefinable concept: humor. What makes something funny? Plato and Aristotle offered what we now call the Superiority Theory. Basically, we laugh at other people’s misfortunes, or when we feel superior…”

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