Do consumers think it’s cool when a brands breaks a rule?

It all depends on the rule, researchers report in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“We reasoned that brands could become cool by breaking rules that seemed unnecessary or unfair, but not by breaking legitimate rules,” the authors wrote.

Studies backed up their hypothesis: In one experiment, researchers asked participants to gauge their reaction to an ad that either advocated breaking or following a dress code.

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When the ad was accompanied by text that gave a legitimate reason for the dress code (honoring veterans), the brand did not seem cooler. But when participants read that the same dress code existed for an illegitimate reason (honoring a corrupt dictator), breaking the rule did help the brand seem cooler.

There’s one caveat, however: it’s nearly impossible to appear cool to everyone. While one group may tolerate breaking traditional dress code rules, for example, it might be seen as deviant by another group.

The researchers defined coolness by autonomy. Brands may do well in upping their coolness quotient by highlighting their uniqueness, the researchers suggested.

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“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 authors wrote.

Photo: James Dean Credit: Getty Images