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To hit the big time in our popular culture you've got to be mainstream cool.

How you get that way is not an easy process. You can't seem to be trying because that definitely is uncool. And you can't appear to be too cool because people might not understand the essence of your coolness.

To be cool transcends generations. Things and people were cool when I was a teen-ager, and for the same reasons they are now. Most of my rock 'n' roll idols-Danny & the Juniors, Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Bobby Darin-are cool today, as are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Microsoft used a Rolling Stones song in its ads, and now Microsoft is cool and so is founder Bill Gates, which goes to show you that nerds can be cool.

In the magazine publishing field, publishers strive to put out a "hot book," which means one that catches the fancy of advertisers. But a hot book isn't necessarily cool.

John F. Kennedy Jr. is definitely a mega-hunk with the ladies, and it appears that his new magazine, George, whose mission is to make politics a part of our popular culture, is a hot book. But is John Jr. cool and will his magazine be cool?

For somebody to be mainstream cool he or she has got to be so considered by men and women equally. Very few people meet that criterion. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis are cool. You can fall out of cool: Kevin Costner has. Tony Bennett is cool. Jack Palance is cool, in movies and TV commercials but maybe not in person.

In sports, NASCAR and the NFL are cool; Major League Baseball isn't (duh) and the NBA is dangerously close to falling out of cool.

Cool is made, not born. The Fox network has helped make NFL football cool again, as have the advertising people (those new Snickers commercials with the Buffalo Bills are very cool).

Ad guys place their bets on who they think will be cool, and then they try to make it happen. Nike and Reebok, two coolish marketers, are attaching their names to top NFL stars. Both Nike and Reebok, however, are in need of coolness infusions themselves, and they no doubt think that the NFL's newfound coolness will rub off on them. On the other hand, continuing to identify with the almost uncool NBA would further drain the shoe marketers' cool reserves.

The coolness factor is very important in marketing products and services. Consumers want to vacation at cool places and be seen using cool products. And what happens if you advertise a cool product on an uncool TV program?

If you were Microsoft, would you advertise on David Letterman or Jay Leno? Or would you bet that Stephanie Miller will become cooler than Dave or Jay? Coolness begets coolness.

Marketers ignore the coolness factor at their peril. If you lose it, it's hard to get it back. And if you ain't got it, your only hope is to hang close to somebody who does.

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