Superbrands (UK) Ltd. has published its official list of Britain’s coolest brands 2007/08. Top five from the ‘experts’ are:
Saying my old college is cooler than Apple is a curious accolade. It comes from a Superbrands council representing “a diverse collection of perspectives and experiences, although they are mainly media personalities who influence opinion, e.g. DJ Trevor Nelson or VOGUE.COM editor Dolly Jones, as well as senior figures from marketing agencies across a wide range of disciplines – from advertising to PR”.
This bunch may be the cream of their professions but I’m not sure they’re the right people to be judging the quality of my education. But this is the point. They’re judging not what the university does but what it’s seen to do: what it stands for in peoples’ minds. Over the past six years Superbrands has whittled down their definition of ‘cool’ to six characteristics, which are: style, innovation, originality, authenticity, desirability and uniqueness. This, it seems, is what CSM means, irrespective of what actually happens in or outside its studios and lecture theatres.
Fair enough. I think Central Saint Martins is quite cool too (possibly something to do with Jarvis Cocker’s oh-so-ironic “she studied sculpture at St Martin’s College..”). But did that help me as a student? And does it do me any good as a graduate? I’m struggling to think of any benefit of the coolness factor that doesn’t just perpetuate the slippery commercialism of the art world, in which association with a big name does a good deal of the work for you.
I suppose there’s also the fact that universities are under pressure to attract funding and new students and research staff who can produce work capable of propagating the institution’s good name, and brand management goes a long way in terms of getting the right kind of business. But let’s not forget that brands aren’t cool by accident: there are teams of people hidden away whose job it is to create the brand that suits the product. If this is the case, why is it that art & design squares so neatly with ‘cool’? For a college that professes to set trends not lead them, cool sounds a bit too comfortable, and too boring to excite the best minds to join their ranks.