Can a credit card be “cool”? If so, how?
Certainly. First off, the term "cool" seems to evade definition. Runyan, Noh, and Mosier (2013) provide a great review on the origin and evolution of the term. Drawing from this prior work, cool is often associated with innovation, celebrity, youth, exclusivity, and uniqueness. Of course, brands can be considered cool and uncool depending on how consumers perceive and associate with these brands. Look to Apple or Facebook for great examples of how perceived "coolness" often ebbs and flows.
Similarly, many credit cards are associated with exclusivity (e.g., Mastercard's Black Card), celebrity endorsements (Alec Baldwin with Capital One), and youth. Moreover, consumers can now individualize credit cards; thus, allowing them to communicate uniqueness and own personal style. So, to your question, yes, credit cards can be cool or uncool, depending on your perspective. Also, what may be cool to one consumer could be completely uncool to another, and what is cool today can become uncool tomorrow, so it is all relative.
How often do you think the average person notices someone else’s credit card?
My first instinct is to say, not very often, but in thinking about the people close to me, I can list off which credit cards many of them own. I'd expect that most people could do the same for close friends and family members, so I certainly notice other people's credit cards. Also, it is common to discuss credit cards with other people in terms of their look, rewards, etc. So, I'd say that normally, we don't notice someone else's credit card except when we are exposed to it often, as is the case for close friends and family members. In these cases, it becomes difficult not to notice, because of the sheer frequency of exposure. Moreover, we tend to ignore the banal, so credit cards that are unique and salient tend to be noticeable. Similarly, humans are sociable and egocentric, so we notice commonalities. When someone owns the same credit card we own, we notice.
What’s cooler: rewards or 0% APRs?
I can't say for sure. Again, because of the dynamic nature of "cool," rewards could be cool for one person, but uncool for another. For instance, I tend to always pay off my credit cards, so APRs are essentially meaningless to me. As a result, I consider rewards to be cooler. Generally speaking, I'd expect consumers to be more drawn to rewards than APRs, which they may perceive as boring fine print. Thus, the average person may find rewards to be cooler than 0% APRs, but I'm biased.
Which would you say is the coolest credit card on the market?
We tend to associate colors with specific cognitions. Green with the environment, blue with calm, red with danger, etc. Sundar and Kellaris (2017) provide a terrific review on the embodied cognition of colors. Credit cards have embodied the color "black" with exclusivity and luxury. For these reasons, I find the black cards to be the coolest on the market. The Centurion Card, for example, is invitation-only, and requires members to meet a number of criteria that exclude the vast majority of consumers. This exclusivity and mystery make the card particularly cool. Of course, for the rest of us, we tend to find cards that offer the most rewards to be notably cool. The Citi Double Cash Card, for instance, offers some of the best rewards available, which makes it particularly cool. Also, some cards are cool in terms of their aesthetics. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is made of metal, while the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card allows you to customize the front of the card.