Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Can Brands Make You Happy?
Buried amongst the doom and gloom of spending cuts, rising prices and military action, the Government recently decided that it wanted us to be happy; and, just to make sure, it is going to measure how happy we are. It’s interesting that brands don’t really overtly tell consumers they will make them happy so tend not to measure this directly. So who’s got it right? Rather than settle this the Harry Hill way (“Fight!”) we asked our consumer consultation community - the Engage Brain – what they thought happiness was all about and how it related to brands. Here’s what they said.
First of all it seems that there is more to happiness than just being happy. Our community told us that there are really two kinds of happiness – short term “joy” and longer term “contentment”. (Interestingly this matches academic thinking in this area which defines two forms of happiness “dynamic” and “peaceful”).
Our consumers say that both are necessary – joy provides the highs, the hits of happiness, the peaks to our days that keep us going through the troughs. However underlying contentment with who you are, what you are doing, the people you are surrounded by, where you are going ...is more fundamental and somehow more authentic. As one consumer put it short term happiness is what we all want, but long term contentment is what we probably really need.
Another theme in consumers’ definition & discussion of happiness is the idea of the smaller things making a bigger difference. In fact the disproportionate joy that finding a misplaced favourite novel, your partner coming home early from work, the stereotypical child’s smile can give makes those small things so significant in contributing to longer term happiness.
On the other side of the equation the things which make people unhappy also fall into short term irritations and longer term disappointments, stresses or problems. So whilst short term joy can alleviate the anxiety of missing a friend, worrying about a sick relative, feeling insecure about jobs and finances, these longer term issues do not go away and how we deal with many of these things being out of our control ultimately has a greater effect on how happy we are.
Short term irritations get people very angry in the moment, and can sour relationships with people and so with brands – rudeness, unfairness, waste, other people’s bad behaviour or bad moods are all common everyday downers for our consumers!
So where do brands fit into all this. Well consumers tend to lump brands (and consumption generally) into the “short term joy” category. There are some exceptions, but the general feeling is that brands should focus on bringing moments of happiness rather than trying to make us fundamentally more content (which they will not be able to achieve).
This is because people feel (indeed they know from experience) that buying something, however fabulous, provides short term elation, a hit of happy, but that this rarely lasts beyond the point of purchase or first use. So even though we might not be able to buy long term happiness, brands can offer a welcome distraction from the challenges and anxieties of everyday life. How do consumers feel they do that?
Well they can simply amuse us – consumers consistently feed back to us that they love funny or warm ads (the Andrex puppy, The Specsavers mistaken identity kiss, the BT Adam & Jane story) whilst ads which are probably effective through irritation (Compare the Market, Go Compare are examples that were shared by consumers) really tick them off.
Consumers tell us that brands can also make people feel happy by making them feel special; this might be through the experience they provide or by reinforcing their choice, again one consumer put it thus : a reinforcement of our good judgement, our cleverness for selecting it in the first place, for using our discriminatory senses and not buying something inferior. I bought the very best – and I am happy.
Brands can also make us happy by being happy brands. A brand with a bright, fresh image or a personality which exudes positive warmth, can lift a consumer’s mood (Persil, Top Shop, Heinz all do this, consumers tell us, but in different ways). Brands which play on our guilt, make us feel needy, create want where need doesn’t really exist – consumers know that these brands might be successful but they do not make us happy!
Brands can also contribute to longer term happiness by having an honest, human relationship with consumers, by keeping promises or making things right when they have gone wrong; by rewarding loyalty; by delivering a succession of joyous moments to consumers to keep them going through their bad patches. In fact focusing on the smaller things in life seems to be a blueprint for greater happiness.
So brands don’t need to try and make us happy to be successful, but as life gets more grim brands which adopt this strategy might be more successful than those which are seen as more cynical. So if they are concerned with making consumers happy brands should take these simple steps :
• Think small, not big
• Think personality as much as product
• Make promises that you can keep...and keep them
• Reward me, genuinely, realistically for my loyalty
• Surprise me
• Deliver serial joy, everyday happiness hits
Simple as that.