Can Brands Really Make Us Happy?

Can brands really make us happy? If you ask any brand marketer, the answer is clearly “yes.” And even more so if you ask marketing staff from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and now LuLuLemon, all of which have spent substantial marketing resources on associating their brands with “happy.”

Can brands really make us happy? If you ask any brand marketer, the answer is clearly “yes.” And even more so if you ask marketing staff from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and now LuLuLemon, all of which have spent substantial marketing resources on associating their brands with “happy.”

But do consumers consciously purchase products with the sole purpose of achieving happiness? And if so, it is a conscious drive or among the 90 percent of our thoughts that drive our behavior from our unconscious mind?

According to Steve Quartz, professor at California Institute of Technology, we do, but mostly unwittingly, as emotional purchases are often unconscious. Quartz, a one-time believer that consumerism or the drive to buy stuff did not generate happiness, changed his tune after creating a consumer neuroscience project to further explore the psychological impact of buying. As stated in his article, which appeared on PBS.org, here’s what he learned:

We found that asking people to merely look at products they considered “cool” sparked a pattern of activation in a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex.

Quartz continues to explain that the brain activity resulting from seeing something deemed to be cool, and contemplating owning that coolness, is similar to how the brain responds when we receive a compliment, or feel that someone else values the brands or they have gone up in social status or peer approval. These are the same feelings we get when we anticipate love or rewards, or feel connectedness as we actually experience hormonal rushes of dopamine and oxytocin.

If the above is true, then it makes sense that adding visual and social coolness to your product packaging will increase attention and sales to even failing products as the cool score can actually trump other decision influencers. A case in point is that this very approach made big dollars for Proctor and Gamble when it redesigned the packages for Clairol Herbal Essences, a failing brand it bought in 2001 and decided to reinvent, per its packaging appeal in 2006.

P&G added a total happy appeal to its product, replacing the clunky dull pink rectangle bottle with vibrant-colored, shaped bottles that actually nestled together, making the purchase of the shampoo and conditioner pair more attractive – visually and emotionally. In addition to creating a more energetic shape, they added fun, happy language and changed the names of each product to reflect that new, inviting energy. P&G also uses fun language that reflects the persona of its target consumers and added riddles to the bottles. If you wanted the answer to the riddle on the shampoo bottle, you needed the conditioner, too. Post-repackaging, with a more vibrant, fun, shaped bottle and adding elements of happiness through language and interaction, sales soared. Products like Color Me Happy and Hello Hydration rose to the Top 10 products for shampoo sales in 2014, according to research from Statista.

In recent years, McDonald’s jumped on the happiness bandwagon with its 2014 Super Bowl advertisement, “Pay With Lovin.”Instead of focusing on its products or building appeal for new products, the entire 60-second TV spot showed cashiers surprising customers by telling them to pay for their purchase with gestures of love toward another instead of money. The impact of happy customers doing happy dances and calling home to say “I love you, Mom” produced some happy results for McDonald’s, as well as happy customers. In just two weeks of running the ad, the McDonald’s brand perception rating went from 30 percent positive or neutral to 85 percent positive or neutral, per a March 2015 article on adweek.com.

Aligning with happiness seems to be working well for Coca-Cola, too. It has a website dedicated to happiness quotes, music and tips. Its corporate social responsibility program is built all around giving people free gifts out of Coke vending machines at shopping malls, the Happiness Truck in underprivileged communities worldwide, and so much more. I’m pretty sure the marketing team and shareholders alike are happy with the brand’s 96 million likes on Facebook and sales of more than 1.7 billion servings of its product daily.

How you can add happiness to your brand’s marketing:

1. Learn What Moves Your Customers: Every personality has style, color, energy, art and more preferences. What are those associated with your target consumer? I was working with an agency that creates ads for auto dealers. We did a psychology-based marketing audit of its customers for a specific car and learned the creative was spot-off in its ads. The psychology profile for potential buyers was bright colors, high-energy visuals, and action/adventure-oriented themes. Its ad featuring a white car, sitting still in a parking lot, was doing nothing. We changed it up and changed response.

2. Know Your Data: Skip the transactional data and focus on behavioral data that is aligned with emotions. As mentioned earlier, we learned from neuromarketers that 90 percent of our thoughts and subsequent actions are driven by emotions, not conscious thought processes upon which our past transactions are based. Invest in programs that help you understand patterns, attitudes, emotional needs based upon behavior science, generational and cultural influences.

3. Share the Love: Remember, customers are people with strong emotional needs that go far beyond the products they purchase. And they are more than a name on a data field with a dollar value assigned to it. Create customer journeys that provide joy, relief and comfort along the way with your brand, and put in place return policies and customer service protocols that make them “Happy” when working with you vs. frustrated or anxious.

Most importantly, have fun creating opportunities for your customers and speaking with them on their terms, and from their own persona. When you have fun and create happiness on the job, it is simply contagious. And that’s a good thing to spread.

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at Jeanette@e4marketingco.com.

4 thoughts on “Can Brands Really Make Us Happy?”

  1. As I will have burrito bowl 2,541 today, Chipotle has been making me happy, and keeping me healthy, for more than nine years.

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