Why will happiness matter as a brand in this decade?
How the market growth in coming years will find deep roots in happiness?
As it is, many CEOs and managers already see happiness as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator). And anything that makes its way out of the factory, gets a bit of happiness attached to it before going public.
Happiness is near risking its way to getting clichéd.
And we’re talking of “Happiness” — The Brand.
“Happiness” has become the byword in marketing today. Its presence in the market is ubiquitous.
Today, it is an essential branding accessory that a horde of marketing heads are using increasingly to promote their services and products. The advertisements associating their brands with Happiness that I crossed paths with in the last six months range from realty, cars, apparels, holidays, manufacturing hubs, sodas, gifting solutions, office cultures, college campuses, spa services, mall experiences, gadgets, kitchen appliances, and even stationery (happy pencils, anyone?).
You open a newspaper or a magazine, or go to a social network or a high-value content-curated site – you can be sure to find a publicity communiqué using the word Happiness. You’ll spot ‘Open Happiness’, ‘Delivering Happiness’, ‘Chain of Happiness’, ‘Gifting Happiness’, ‘Land of Happiness’, ‘Happiness Calling’, and ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’, to mention a few.
Forbes came out with a list of the Happiest Brands. Forbes called them ‘feel-good brands that pluck all the right heartstrings.’ Apple was at the top. Incidentally, UK has its own Isobel index of Happiest Brands; Cadbury took the top slot last year.
And the surprising thing is that “Happiness” took close to no time to become this big a global branding phenomenon. Go back 5 years, and you find it wasn’t this phenomenal.
So, how did “Happiness” acquire this viral popularity in our collective consciousness the world over, in a journey of less than a decade?
History of Happiness
It began at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1998, Martin Seligman became the President of the American Psychological Association. He signaled a breakthrough movement borrowing a phrase from Abraham Maslow – Positive Psychology.
Those two words soon burst upon humanity as “The Science of Happiness.” Spearheading the movement were some of the best-known psychologists from the US and Europe.
His premise was this: Psychology throughout most of its existence has been a science that was based on the disease model. Traditionally speaking, it was all about studying what’s wrong with people. Seligman proposed it was time to move the fulcrum and balance the negative weight of this human science with the positive.
In a later day address at the 1999 Lincoln Summit, he said, “The most important thing, the most general thing I learned, was that psychology was half-baked, literally half-baked. We had baked the part about mental illness… The other side’s unbaked, the side of strength, the side of what we’re good at.”
Essentially, he declared that the psychologists now needed to refocus, and begin an era of studying into the human strengths and happiness.
He was supported by Ed Diener (who coined the term subjective well-being), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who gave us the concept of flow), Barbara Fredrickson, Christopher Peterson, Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, Kennon Sheldon, and Sonja Lyubomirsky.
The year 1999 saw three remarkable events happen in this new found discipline:
- The first Positive Psychology Conference is held in Akumal, Mexico.
- The first annual Positive Psychology Summit is held in Lincoln, Neb.
- The first University Programs in Positive Psychology available at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.
And in 2005, Time published its cover story, The New Science of Happiness. Next year, in 2006, Tal Ben-Shahar’s course on the subject, popularly referred to as Happiness 101, became the most popular course in Harvard ever, with its enrollment of 854 students, surpassing even introductory economics.
The media had found its new poster boy – “Happiness.”
Brand Happiness Goes To Market
From that point on, the marketers started infiltrating the ranks. They listened intently to the researchers speak, took notes, and read journal papers at night. Once they started to understand this, they began to spend their time, effort, and money to formulate their market testing campaigns. And the results were encouraging. The Happiness Brand was getting unforeseen amounts of market traction.
This rhetoric on happiness arrived as a gigantic opportunity for brands, according to Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at JWT. She said, “People are thinking of happiness in a more prescriptive way.”
But wasn’t it getting exploitative?
A definitive ‘No’ was their answer.
They reasoned that instead of feeding the fears and exploiting the weaknesses of the consumers, brands that design ways to make the customers happy, would have the ethical and moral advantage.
Consumer happiness was a better proposition than customer satisfaction, any which way you saw it.
You might as well just imagine them saying, “You know that old saying that money can’t buy happiness. Now, even science proves that. So what we are offering here is something your money cannot buy – happiness! You’re just paying for the product; the happiness that you cannot buy comes free. We’re giving it because, after all, the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental right; we are just facilitating that.”
At this point, we were reminded of the incredible Don Mad Men Draper quote,
Advertisement is based on one thing – happiness.
And thus the brand-name of the product or service was pushed into the background. While the happiness brand picked up the plum role of the central protagonist in marketing campaigns.
It worked on the premise that Positive Psychology proved that purchasing of experiences gave much more lasting happiness than purchasing of material objects. This immediately worked out well for ‘experiential services’ as holidays, spas, and the likes. It was the products – the material things – that needed to be redefined in the advertisement stories.
Advertisement is based on one thing – happiness. – Don Draper, Mad Men Click To Tweet
Soon enough, the goods industry too made an effortless, almost imperceptible transition into selling happiness experiences rather than product values. Happiness, the brand, was everywhere.
An extremely expensive watch wasn’t now being sold for keeping time accurately for 100 years; instead, it was now a piece of heirloom embodying happiness of a generation that a father would pass on to his son on his day of engagement.
Selling The Brand Happiness
Is this ubiquitous trend of packing in happiness as a part of the sale the right thing to do?
After all, happiness is a basic human emotion, so why commercialize it?
The experts voiced the rightful reasons again.
Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, also a social psychologist, suggests the marketing of happiness can carry an appeal to the people that feels like The Dragonfly Effect.
The idea of brands enabling happiness and providing greater meaning in the world is powerful. People have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.
Another expert opinion in support of this shift to selling happiness came from Scott Reid, executive creative director at The Mars Agency. In a Hub white paper named Happiness Reflected, he made it clear in the following words:
Value is perhaps the most sought-after thing in marketing, and it leads to happiness; happiness is the greatest of all motivators, and experiences are entirely about moments that make us happy. …That’s the point. In thinking about the experience, regardless of the value created, what matters is how someone feels, and not what a brand stands for. That is to say, what the brand stands for is only part of the equation. And what’s more, with all three kinds of value (tangible, intangible, and aspirational), one thing is common; they all result in happiness.
In November 2014, Trevor Clawson — a UK business journalist — wrote an article in Forbes covering a three-day summit held in London called Hacking Happiness, Building A Happiness Brand in London’s Tech City, in which he quoted entrepreneur Sebastian Nienaber, “Our approach is to build our brand first – and we’re doing that through the summit. And once we’ve built the brand we will go to develop the products.”
Nicola Kemp of Marketing Magazine says, “It is high time marketers recognised that the pursuit of happiness, far from being a distraction, is key to building sustainable brands and enduring, fulfilling careers.”
Shawn Achor, a positive psychology expert and chief executive of GoodThink Inc, has a grander agenda – that of infusing the workplace with happiness in order to raise productivity. He points out that we have reached a tipping point in relation to the nature of work.
“We can no longer increase hours and workload and expect to see higher returns. In fact, we are finding that those people forced to work the longest without feeling happy at work are getting the least done,” he says, explaining the need of introducing happiness into the workplace and the industry.
So, as of today, you can’t keep the market out of happiness. And you can’t either keep happiness out of the market. These happy wheels are spinning fast, and you can’t keep them from rolling all the way up to the glory mountain top.
That’s the only way the happiness brand is going to go now.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, chief editor of its blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
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