The cool brands con: pay us £6,250 and you, too, can claim a place on the British hip list

Paul Smith, Harvey Nichols and Myla among companies excluded in cash-for-cachet controversy

Few would dare question the popularity of the Mini, the reputation of the Savoy or the fashionable cool of designer Sir Paul Smith. So it was a surprise when these and other famous British names were not included in a poll of top UK brands, one backed by the leading lights of the marketing industry.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday has revealed that behind their omission was an astonishing demand from the organisers of the annual vote that the "winning" companies pay thousands of pounds for the privilege of being listed. Sir Paul Smith, the Harvey Nichols chain and other leading British names refused.

The disclosure is a serious blow to the credibility of the scheme - claimed to be a serious attempt to promote the success of British goods and services - which was endorsed by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the British Brands Group.

Selfridges was voted top of the Cool Brand-Leaders 2004 list, followed respectively by the magazine Dazed & Confused, the lingerie shop Agent Provocateur, the central London restaurant Hakkasan and the art department of Goldsmiths College, London. In total, 63 brands appeared on the well-publicised list.

The upmarket lingerie firm Myla was one of the brands that refused to pay. Charlotte Semler, Myla's co-founder, said her company received a letter earlier this year from the Business Superbrands Council (BSC), the independent organisation behind the scheme, stating that it had been chosen to appear on the list.

"The letter started off: 'It gives me great pleasure to inform you that Myla has been selected as one of the coolest brands in Britain.' It went on to say that we had been chosen by the 'independent and voluntary Cool BrandLeaders Judging Panel' and that only a minority of the initial shortlist of brands qualifies for this following the judging process," she said. "But it wasn't until you got to the end of the letter that they asked for £6,250 for what they described as 'full membership of the 2004 programme'.

"We are a small company and simply could not afford that sort of money. It seems unfair to prevent smaller companies from appearing on this list simply because the membership charges are so prohibitively high."

It is not only small companies that resisted paying the fee. The Savoy Group, which includes Claridge's and the Connaught, has been approached twice, but each time refused to stump up. A spokeswoman for the Savoy Group said: "We got a lovely warm feeling when we opened the very posh literature and saw that we had been selected. But they were requesting a sum that just wasn't in our marketing budget, so we declined."

Robert Bean,who founded the brand and advertising consultancy BANC in 1994, said: "Making people pay to appear on a list of this type drives an Exocet through the side of its credibility. Any talk of the list being independent would certainly be putting a great deal of make-up over the creases. There is nothing wrong with people marketing their findings, but coercing people into paying to be included in their findings is just plain wrong."

It has also emerged that companies including Diesel, Piaggio and Agent Provocateur - all names that made it on to this year's list - also had high-profile representatives on the judging panel.

This year's judges included the fashion designer Matthew Williamson, Tony Chambers, creative director at the style magazine Wallpaper*, and Alex Proud, owner of Proud Galleries.

Other members on the panel were Siobhan Curtin, marketing manager for Piaggio (Vespa); Daniel Barton, head of marketing and communications at Diesel, and Nicki Bidder, editor-in-chief of Dazed & Confused. These three all found that the brands they represent appeared in this year's list.

According to Superbrands, the independent judges consider more than 1,300 brands before compiling a shortlist. It is from this shortlist that invitations are sent out to brands. In most cases, those who pay the fee appear on the list. This year's list was compiled in co-operation with Metro, London's free newspaper, which helped research the views of more than 3,000 consumers aged 18 to 44 on who, what and where is cool.

According to the official website: "Cool BrandLeaders are brands that have become extremely desirable among many style leaders and influencers. They have a magic about them signifying that users have an exceptional sense of taste and style."

Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the BSC, said that in most cases a brand has to pay to appear on the list, but said that most similar awards ceremonies have some sort of payment involved, some simply for entering.

Mr Cheliotis said: "The fee is ultimately for the production and printing of a publication in which the selected brands appear, as well as for a promotional event. The book is distributed widely and is read by a wide variety of both industry figures and the public.

"At the end of the day it is an opportunity for a brand to feature alongside others which are equally highly rated and elite. Anyone we approach would easily be able to cover such costs as we only approach the major brands. All we are trying to do is promote the discipline of branding and pay tribute to exceptional brands."

Additional reporting by Sophie Morris

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer

£36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen