A recent FM Redzone youth discussion debated the way top brands have managed to redefine the concept of cool over the years.

The panel – mediated by Tilt’s chief creative officer, Arye Kellman, and consisting of representatives from Sunday Times Generation Next winners CNA and FNB and two members of the junior board of directors of HDI Youth Marketeers (JBoD) – agreed that brands today have to adjust and evolve, but should not stray from their purpose.

FNB has won the Sunday Times Generation Next coolest banking brand accolade for the past eight years. FNB digital marketing manager Nina Amri and media strategist Lebo Tubakgale said the brand’s customer-centric positioning, encapsulated in the pay-off line “how can we help you”, is central to its success and a sign that FNB is doing something right.

“In terms of both our offering and our innovative technology we have ensured that the business has adapted to remain relevant and to meet the needs of our consumers,” said Amri, adding that FNB is known in the market for its innovative approach. She ascribed FNB’s success in the youth market, traditionally a tough market to reach, to this.

Finding a purpose for brands in the banking sector is challenging, given the love-hate relationship consumers have with their banks, conceded Tubakgale. FNB has navigated this challenge through its purpose of offering help and educating customers about healthy behaviour that assists them to understand banking and to avoid its more negative sides.


Once the bank had decided to stick to this purpose, it tried not to jump around too much because “straying from the purpose causes brands to lose authenticity,” said Amri.

Relevance, it seems, is key when it comes to brands the youth market sees as cool or uncool. Though CNA won the coolest stationery brand accolade for the second year running this year, just a few years ago the retailer had a reputation of being a jack of all trade and was fast losing relevance in the market.

“We had to go back to our roots to see where the brand had relevance, and that was in the stationary space,” said CNA MD Julie Day. This, she said, is where the brand can be relevant within the youth market – in the fashionable stationery it offers, even following cat-walk trends to ensure it is up to date with the latest offerings.

When it comes to brand purpose CNA takes a cradle-to-grave approach for consumers aged 16-65 and forms partnerships that help it achieve its purpose across various markets. In addition the brand uses different media to sell different messages, which allows it to communicate a variety of aspects of the brand purpose story, said Day. 

For a brand to be cool, it must be relevant and relatable, said JBoD’s Puseletso Radebe. “Brands should be willing to adapt quickly to follow trends,” she said. However, she maintained that brands can only have a temporary purpose in an era of rapid change.

The big take-out

Cool brands are relevant, purposeful and consistent and keep up with the pace of culture

When it comes to purpose, and the “feeling” one attaches to the brand, emotion will win over price every time, she added. “Pricing is about instant gratification,” said Radebe, while positive feelings attached to brands are about the knowledge that the brand will accommodate your needs – and ultimately relationship is more important than price.

So, what have FNB and CNA done right to have achieved such accolades in the youth market? Nono Ditshego pointed out that CNA is always her first option for gifts and stationery and the store has never disappointed her – it’s about consistency.

In the same way, Radebe explained that she is a customer of FNB as her family has always banked with the brand. “It’s a trusted brand, with a consistent product offering and the ability to remain relevant in people’s lives.”

Brands no longer compete with each other but rather with the pace of culture, pointed out HDI Youth Marketeers CEO Bongani Chinkanda. “The brands that last are those that have adapted and evolved with culture – this is the key to being cool,” he said, adding that brands need to know what the future looks like and start speaking to the right consumers now – in the present.