What's really going on inside the teenage brain

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Teenagers are so hard to understand. A huge new survey of what teens think is cool is only adding to the confusion.

Apparently, teens think Red Bull is less cool than Costco? That Sony is less cool than Microsoft? That Levis are less cool than HP? It’s like they’re deliberately trying to troll their parents’ generation.

The survey — run by Google — is full of weird comparisons like this. The following chart shows all the brands, from dorky on the left to cool on the right. The vertical axis shows how well known the brands are.

If you look closely, you will notice a few things that are seriously suspicious. Do today’s youth really worship Google so much?


The survey asks the kids (aged 13-17) to rank 122 brands by how cool they are. And Google-owned brands come out with curiously high rankings. The coolest thing in the whole world, according to Google’s survey, is YouTube: owned by Google. Third coolest is Google itself, while Google Android, the phone operating system, and Nest, Google’s smart thermostat company, both take home decent scores.

Something is screwy there. We should probably ignore the Google effect, and when we do, we see patterns that actually make sense.

I hate you, Mom and Dad!

The worst thing a brand can be is something your parents are into. Case in point: Facebook.

Teens pretty much hate Facebook. It shows up in the survey, where, sure, Facebook is something they’ve heard of, but it scores awfully low on the cool scale. The problem for 13-to-17 year olds is their parents are on Facebook, and it is cramping their style.

Facebook messenger scores even worse with the kids, and I imagine that’s because they associate it mainly with messages that look something like this:

Mom: Reminder: come straight home from school today because you have to do your homework. Luv u, x.

Teens’ playgrounds are Snapchat and Instagram instead of Facebook, but the complaints are beginning as parents converge on Instagram too.


(This could actually be a good explanation for the seemingly crazy popularity of YouTube and Netflix — they are something teens can engage with away from prying eyes.)

This graph shows how cool things are (left is not cool, right is cool) and how well known they are (less well known in down, more well known up), for 18-34 year olds.Google

The daggiest brand in the whole survey is the Wall Street Journal. I personally love the Wall Street Journal, but I understand it is not cool (and also that I am not cool) so its low score gives the whole thing credibility.

What’s less expected is that the media brand Vice does so badly. It’s a weird result given how much effort Vice is putting in to be edgy. It’s a bit of a mystery and there is definitely some skew in the results where well-known brands also seem to be scoring as cooler than less well-known ones.

Why should we care what these pimply youths think anyway?

I personally hate the idea that we need to find out what pathetic ideas are swimming around in the jelly brains of these fat and spoiled American children, but the reality is the little morons matter.

American teenagers are one of the driving forces of the world economy.


If you want to know what brands and companies are going to be big you need to tune your antenna to what they like. Soft drink brands and blue jeans, rock music and skateboarding — so much of what we call popular culture got its start with teens before crossing over to the mainstream.

So if you’re trying to invest, or make choices about what to study or where to work, you’ll do better if you keep an eye on the things American teens think are cool.

First published on news.com.au.