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, 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

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.

Duckie’s ‘Pretty in Pink’ Lesson for Brands

Marketers, I’m not sure how you spent your Valentine’s Day, but I attended the 30th anniversary re-release of “Pretty in Pink.” And it was there that I realized brands can learn a very real lesson from the Duckman himself, Philip “Duckie” Dale.

Exclusive Pretty in Pink 30th anniversary art by Jeff Delgado for Fandango
Exclusive Pretty in Pink 30th anniversary art by Jeff Delgado for Fandango

Marketers, I’m not sure how you spent your Valentine’s Day, but I was dressed in a (mostly) pink dress with one of my best friends and her nine-year-old daughter for the 30th anniversary re-release of the 1986 Brat Pack classic, “Pretty in Pink.”

For the anniversary showing, there was a short feature at the end where the cast and director talked about how the movie was originally scripted with Philip “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) ending up with Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald). But Molly explained how she never really had that kind of chemistry with Jon; instead he was like a brother to her, and it showed.

When the movie, with the original ending, was shown to test audiences, they responded poorly. So six months after wrapping, the cast and crew got together again to re-film the ending, this time with rich-kid Blane McDonnagh (Andrew McCarthy) getting the girl.

As a kid, I never questioned it. Blane was cute and rich and Andie wanted to be with him, while keeping sweet and slightly overbearing Duckie at bay. But watching it as an adult — even before the knowledge about the original ending — my heart knew Andie should be with Duckie.

Why? Because Duckie was genuine. From the tips of his scuffed-up white pointed-toe shoes to the top of his pompadour and pork pie hat, this kid was always his true self.

He didn’t conform and try to fit in with the rich kids, because he had no desire to be like them. Duckie didn’t try to make himself more like Blane in order to win the affections of the girl he was so hopelessly in love with.

Duckie Dale prom quote from Pretty in PinkNow, brands, you may argue: “But Duckie DIDN’T get the girl! Why do we want to be like the King of the Friendzone?”

Remember: Duckie was supposed to get the girl … it was the actors’ lack of chemistry, and — let’s say, hubris — of the test audiences of the mid-80s that kept him from that goal. Nothing Duckie the character did.

If you want more proof, ask just about any woman who she would have picked. Or google image search “team duckie” and discover how many t-shirts there are proclaiming this sentiment.

Even Molly Ringwald’s daughter agrees.

Team Duckie TweetDuckie may have been the underdog, but he knew exactly who he was and never waivered. And think of other brands that started as underdogs: Apple. Ben & Jerry’s. Underdogs are relatable.

As Kathryn Wheeler writes in this excellent Hubspot post:

Underdogs are always a beacon of hope, a reminder that sometimes you can beat the odds.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself, brands. Be authentic. Be the underdog. Be relatable. And, just maybe, instead of getting the girl, you’ll get an audience of devoted and loyal fans.

And now, for your viewing pleasure … I dare you to watch this and not have the adorable Duckie steal your heart.


Millennials, Music and Marketing

Music is a powerful marketing vehicle that fits neatly into the social media space. Big brands have aligned with celebrity artists to reach Millennials in their native social media milieu. Taylor Swift is the face of Keds and Diet Coke. Impresario JayZ has a multi-million dollar deal with Samsung, and Katie Perry is on board with H&M to name just a few. Music festivals have become mega-marketing events with a complex web of social sharing opportunities.

Music is a powerful marketing vehicle that fits neatly into the social media space. Big brands have aligned with celebrity artists to reach Millennials in their native social media milieu. Taylor Swift is the face of Keds and Diet Coke. Impresario JayZ has a multi-million dollar deal with Samsung, and Katie Perry is on board with H&M, to name just a few. Music festivals have become mega-marketing events, with a complex Web of social sharing opportunities.

This relationship between big brands and celebrity musicians is symbiotic: For the brands, music can be the relevant tie that binds them to an audience that’s skeptical of traditional advertising. For celebrity musicians, brand endorsements are not only a lucrative revenue stream, but also an important platform for extending their reach.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s, most boomers would have called a rock star who endorsed products a sell-out. You would never see anything like The Grateful Dead endorsing Fritos back then, but now we even have Bob Dylan on TV for IBM’s Watson.

The evolution of music into a marketing vehicle has been a long, strange trip. Music has always been a shared experience, but there’s a huge difference in the way young people share between Millennials, the current largest generation, and boomers, the previous largest generation.

From my teens through my 30s, it was cool to have a high-fidelity stereo system (tuner/amp, three-way speakers and turntable) to play vinyl records at high volume and fill a room full of friends with music. Music listening was a social thing, something to be shared live and in-person. The listening unit was an album side, usually start to finish, but occasionally someone would take the trouble to play an individual cut, carefully using the turntable lever to drop the needle in the space between the grooves of the spinning vinyl platter. These precious vinyl disks were handled very carefully to ensure that they didn’t collect oily fingerprints, or God forbid, noise-producing scratches.

Back then, creating a playlist was not a drag-and-drop task. It was a longer-than-real-time event. Using a reel-to-reel or cassette tape recorder plugged into the same amplifier as the turntable, the playlist maker would push the record button, drop the needle for each track, play it through, pause the tape, carefully change out the vinyl record, and then record the next track. The advent of the compact disc made this a bit easier, but it was still a real-time event.

For Millennials, music is still a shared experience, but it’s shared on social media rather than in-person. Rather than being an onerous task, the easily generated playlist is now a common unit of listening. People share playlists through Spotify and Pandora, and can instantly share snippets of music they’re listening to on Spotify or Apple Music using Facebook Music Stories. And music consumption is high. A study by Vevo found that Millennials spend an average of 25 hours per week streaming music.

But rather than filling a room with music, much of music listening today is a solitary activity, using earbuds and mobile devices. High-fidelity systems are a thing of the past – people 18 to 34 are about half as likely to own a receiver/amplifier as those 55 to 64 according to MRI+ data. And while 11 percent of 55 to 64 year olds still have a turntable, only 2 to 3 percent of Millennials own one. Meanwhile, Millennials are about 50 percent more likely to own an mp3 player docking station (with tiny little speakers) and 40 percent more likely to own earbuds than their older counterparts.

The biggest change, however, has come in the area of music festivals. Last year, 14.7 million Millennials attended music festivals. Face-value for Coachella tickets was $349. The festival grossed over $84 million. And brands like Coca Cola, Red Bull and TMobile pony up about $1.4 billion annually in festival sponsorship money. Why? A study by live promoter group AEG and branding company Momentum Worldwide found that 93 percent of those surveyed stated that they liked the brands that sponsor live events. Eighty percent said that they will purchase a product following a music festival experience, as opposed to 55 percent of those who were not in attendance, and those who attended a music festival with brand sponsorship walked away with a 37 percent better perception of the company.

By contrast, Woodstock, the watershed music festival of 1969, was attended by about 500,000 people. Not all of them had the three-day festival ticket that sold for $18. Corporate sponsors? Really?

The Most Important CRM Metric You Might Be Missing

Virtually every organization we have worked with in the past year is working on managing, improving or optimizing their relationships with customers. This work falls under the umbrella term “Customer Relationship Management” or “CRM.” It is, of course, the oldest “new thing” that marketers have focused on, en masse, for a long while.

CRM keyVirtually every organization we have worked with in the past year is working on managing, improving or optimizing their relationships with customers. This work falls under the umbrella term “Customer Relationship Management” or “CRM.” It is, of course, the oldest “new thing” that marketers have focused on, en masse, for a long while.

“CRM,” as it is, is a term that means many things to many different organizations and to different individuals in those organizations. This has created some confusion and leads to missed expectations in organizations.

Through meetings and executive interviews with brands, we have found that the majority of marketers will eventually describe the primary purpose of “CRM” initiatives as growing the value of customers who do business with them. We say “eventually,” because the initial responses to the question “what is the objective of your CRM initiative” gets quite a few answers including:

  • Know our customer better
  • Improve communications with our customer
  • Grow customer relationships (the most common response, and also the least actionable)
  • Decrease the usage of promotion
  • Reduce the volume of emails sent

These are just a few of the ways the organizations we work with begin to define their CRM initiatives; but to really make a difference in the business, CRM needs a clearly defined vision:

Intelligently managed customer relationships grow customer value. It drives incremental profit by either reducing the cost of promotion or driving incremental profitable revenue. CRM requires ongoing testing and learning, which can strategically inform customer acquisition and, in turn, increases the quality of the business.

“Intelligently managed customer relationships grow customer value. It drives incremental profit by either reducing the cost of promotion, or driving incremental profitable revenue.”

Can You Really Grow the Value of Your Customers?
Given the continuing trend of technology and data-driven CRM, it often comes as a surprise that few organizations have a heavy concentration of high-value customers. In fact, it’s the norm.

In a study Kaplan and Anderson published in the Harvard Business Review, the following was found across all industries:

  • 10 to 25 percent of customers drive 100 percent of profits
  • 50 to 60 percent deliver no profit at all
  • 10 to 25 percent deliver negative profitability

Some may find the magnitude of these facts surprising, perhaps even alarming. Not surprisingly, these profitability metrics correlate entirely to our experience across many dozens of organizations in working with their customer databases. What is sometimes an “uncomfortably large” percentage of revenue and profit is driven by a small group of the most valuable customers. In the luxury segment, where some brands have created an “accessible luxury” segment, the results grow even more staggering.

One example where we’ve seen this is among premium luxury brands that have grown “more inclusive” in their customer base. The concentration of customer value in the organizations is often almost exclusively in the top 10 to 15 percent of customers. When we have revealed this insight and evidence, the very business model may need to be rethought. To be sure, across all segments, customer value is a very big deal to all organizations — and, therefore, CRM.

Do Brands Have ‘Bad’ Customers?
This is a topic that is also hard to engage on. Often, marketers dedicate many hours and PowerPoint slides to focusing on the successes, and how good our customers are for our business. That’s an entirely intuitive point. These great customers also have an inverse; that is, customers whose value isn’t quite so great.

Some of these organizations have a material number of what might be called “bad customers,” altogether. But given that customers are the key element to realizing value in every business, how then can they be “bad”?

Let’s be clear, “bad” may carry a visceral sense of judgment. That’s not the point here, at all. The point is to meaningfully differentiate between customer groups or segments that naturally exist today in your database. “Good” or “bad” for the data-driven marketer really means how profitable the group is, or if it’s profitable at all. Simply put, a “bad” customer” must exist if a “good” or “great” customer does. Perhaps more “PC” — all customers have value, yet the value they hold for an organization is very, very different.

“All Customers have value, yet the value they hold for an organization is very, very different.”

You may even have a term for a segment of your customer base that you can’t afford to service well as “cost-control” customers. This happens in financial services, for example, where cost control may mean higher fees and online self service only. While that specific model does not necessarily apply to every business, all businesses have various segments of customers by value — both realized, and potential.

An Example: The Luxury and Accessible Luxury Categories
In the luxury category, brands sometimes become “more inclusive” (for example, in 2008 and at the depths of the Great Recession), which often means either markdowns or a product line for the “accessible luxury” category. As a result of this, customer value inevitably declines. In our experience, that decline was driven by decisions years earlier to scale at the cost of customer quality.

In these scenarios, if you were managing a CRM initiative, you’d have what’s known as a “dual-universe” problem — you can’t manage the value of these very different customers the same way. They may require a different P&L to account for them, and understand their value to the business.

A simple starting point in understanding a “dual universe” goes like this: Segment out your customers into the two groups — those who buy your true premium product, and those who have bought everything else. Analytics can then be leveraged independently across those groups.

The key to understanding if you have good and bad customers is, of course, the speed and dexterity you have to analyze customer data and your ability to measure and monitor changes in customer value by cohort. That’s a tall order for a lot of organizations today. Most are still focused on revenue through acquisition, rather than a strategic view where customer value is crafted first through the unique kind of customer acquired.

Good Customers — The Heart of Your Business
Good customers typically have longevity. Good customers purchase frequently, they have higher order sizes, or monetary value to your organization, they tell their friends about you, and while they appreciate a product they like on sale, they can also pay full price to get what they want.

Most importantly, while great customers generally cost more to acquire, and are harder to come by — good customers are quite profitable.

When a customer is considered good in most situations, they sometimes have the potential to become great ones. And therefore the mission of the CRM practitioner becomes, in simple terms, to ID the similarities and differences between them, make communication more relevant, and shape the value of each sale systematically. Growing customer value for your “good customers” can fill several of these columns, and we’ll put a series on migrating the good customers to great ones. (leave me a comment, or email me if you’d like to see those in the next couple of months).

Great Customers, or ‘Gold Customers’ — The Backbone of Your Business
The challenge for these “great customers” is they are often few and far between. If you’re in a business, where you have many great customers, you are either very, very fortunate, or you have not created a meaningful stratification of customers by value! This is one of the reasons that an intelligent segmentation of customers by value is an eye-opening engagement for most marketers and CRM practitioners.

Great customers, in most cases, are not only few in number but — counter to what may be one’s “gut feeling” — they quite literally carry the business. If you were to assume the contribution of customers to your bottom line followed a normal distribution, (think the bell curve, with a big fat middle), you would be quite surprised by what it most likely looks like. That contribution is stacked heavily to the top standard deviation, or way to the right side of the curve.

The insights we glean over time and across industries on organizations’ “Gold Customers” is the genesis and the reason CRM as a practice exists today.

“The Insights we have gleaned over time and across industries on organizations’ ‘Gold Customers’ is the genesis for and the reason that CRM as a practice exists today.”

The Best Way To Influence your CRM and Customer Value — Smarter Acquisition
This comes as a curveball to many CRM practitioners, especially those early in their CRM careers and experience. Nothing but nothing will change the performance of your database more meaningfully than adding more customers with higher potential value.

Put another way, great — or “Gold Customers” — are the backbone of a business, in that they are primary drivers of profitability, and they are the reason we’re engaging in CRM. So it’s imperative that we not only treat them differently and market to them wisely — but very simple math suggests we must also be acquiring more of them to increase the value of our database, our customer base and our business.

The Most Important Metric of Your CRM Strategy: Potential Value
There are many ways to measure your customers, their behaviors and their value. Concurrently, the most strategic way to grow your business and the value of your CRM initiatives is to collaborate with and inform your customer acquisition; that is to say, you can sculpt potential value through who you market to in the first place.

Customers who can’t afford you, don’t have the habits, beliefs, credit or lifestyles that your great (most valuable) customers do simply won’t or can’t buy like those who do. Those who do are your MVCs (Most Valuable Customers) and those who are ever further from this ideal are your least valuable.

Therefore, there is nothing we can do as marketers and as CRM practitioners that will improve the value of customers now and over time more so than acquiring more of the right ones. The strategy to how we do that is covered in another important article I’ve published as part of the body of work in this column on, “How to Scale-up Customer Acquisition Smarter.”

When you take a holistic view of your marketing, and place the appropriate value on the role of customer intelligence from CRM into your customer acquisition approaches, you can have an ever greater impact on the No. 1 metric we discuss herein — the potential value.

A high-potential value in the customer database then can be translated into ever-greater revenue and profitability, in a scalable and methodical fashion. While potential value is unlocked through all of the strategies and tactics we engage with through CRM — it all starts the most important “inputs” to your CRM — the customers themselves; moreover, acquiring the right ones.

Is It Ever Good to Be Bad?

If you were to ask Miley Cyrus the question in this headline, the answer would be “Oh, yeah.” But if you look at album sales for her chronological counterpart, Taylor Swift, compared to Miley’s since she went “twerking,” the answer is clearly “no.” It took a year for Miley’s most

Miley Cyrus vs Taylor SwiftIf you were to ask Miley Cyrus the question in this headline, the answer would be “Oh, yeah.” But if you look at album sales for her chronological counterpart, Taylor Swift, compared to Miley’s since she went “twerking,” the answer is clearly “no.” It took a year for Miley’s most recent album, “Bangerz,” to reach 1 million in sales, and Taylor Swift’s most recent one, “1989,” hit 1.2 million in just one week. That was Taylor’s third album to sell 1 million copies within a week.

So if positive personas, values and public behavior sell more records, why do the politicians keep upping the volume and intensity of negative campaign ads?

According to Wesleyan Media Project research from 2013, presidential campaign ads hit a record new high in 2012 for volume and for negativity. Interesting, given that further research by Dowling, Conor M.; Wichowsky, Amber, as printed in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015, shows that voters actually punish politicians for negative ads.

But do we really punish negative advertisers? Consciously, it’s fair to say that most people claim to reject negative ads, maintaining that we are not swayed by mudslinging personal attacks and we make choices at a higher intellectual level. Yet, unconsciously, those negative messages, repeated over and over and over, get into our heads and linger longer than we might know. Because 90 percent of our thought is unconscious, according to Gerald Zaltman, a Harvard Business School neuromarketing pioneer and author of “How Customers Think,” those lingering, and likely dormant thoughts might, have a different response to negative ads than the leftover 10 percent that guide what rolls off of our tongues.

Ruthann Lariscy, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia who focuses on studying political advertising, suggests those negative thoughts do linger in our minds and have a lot more influence on Election Day than we want to admit, to ourselves and especially to anyone else. As Lariscy, points out in a recent article she wrote featured on, we process negative information a bit more to help us better understand the implications of the message and that longer contemplation time enables it to register deeper into our psyches. Thoughts that linger longer, even passively, often resurface at later times to influence our behavior, says Lariscy, who refers to this process as the “sleeper effect.” Per her article, we tend forget the negative things one politician says about another and move on. But come Election Day, when we are standing in the election booth with ballot in-hand, something triggers that negative energy associated with claims made in the past and, in a lot of cases, that is when we punish politicians by voting against that bad memory, even if we don’t recall all the details or the source.

While Lariscy calls it the “sleeper effect,” I refer to it as the “survival effect.” Just like other species on this great Earth, we humans are programmed for survival and that deep-rooted and dominant DNA strand affects much of what we do in our daily lives, and has a lot of influence on our attitudes and opinions. Once something has negative energy associated with it, we unconsciously go into survival mode, and start to feel anxious or uneasy without really knowing why, in many cases.

We get a good example of how negative energy impacts our unconscious drivers from the Iowa Gambling Task. This task, which the University of Iowa originated in the 1980s, teaches us that our unconscious responds to negative energy and affects our behavior well before our conscious mind does. Participants in the study were given $2,000 and four decks of cards. The task was to play cards from the four decks, and earn money or lose money accordingly. Two of the decks had high risks for loss, while the other two had a greater chance of earning rewards. Participants were hooked up to monitor stress responses while playing the game. Among the healthy participants, signs of “unconscious” stress showed up after flipping over just 10 cards. It took between 40 and 50 flips for the unconscious mind to catch up! That implies that it takes our conscious mind four and five times longer to catch up with the attitudes, conclusions and drivers of our unconscious minds!

My conclusion from the above study is that our unconscious minds are wired to recognize stress and threats to our survival quickly and, as a result, put us in “survival” mode when we don’t consciously realize it.

How does this impact advertising? In terms of conscious statements about intent to vote or purchase from a brand, there’s likely not much change. But in terms of unconscious drivers that impact 90 percent of our thoughts and behavior, it suggests a great deal: Negative energy associated with your brand or products can impact sales down the road.

Negative energy can come from statements made by competitors questioning your integrity, ability to keep promises made and even financial stability. It can also come from using colors that create unconscious feelings of anxiety vs. those that put our minds at ease and create a sense of trust. And it can come from us, in the form of bad ads that leave one to question our values and our familiarity with what matters most to our customers.

GoDaddy, more known for its bad Super Bowl ads, perhaps, than its great customer service (which it has, by the way), is an example. For years, GoDaddy has tried to use shock value during Super Bowl games to get people talking about the brand. That goal is achieved, as the ads continue to pepper the top of the “Least Effective” ranks, in terms of generating persuasion, relevance, watchability and other results, as measured by Ace Metrix. In 2014, GoDaddy achieved No. 1 and No. 4 spots for the least effective Super Bowl ads with the “Body Builder” and “I Quit” ads. In 2015, the company went with one designed for even more shock value by having a beautiful top model sucking face with a quintessential unattractive nerd. GoDaddy claims that that kissing ad generated its best Super Bowl scores yet. And, per Mashable’s report on the ad’s results, its best sales day ever, with increases of 45 percent for a single product.

While “shock value, off-beat” ads might work great for short-term gains, in this case it clearly didn’t work for long-term sustainability. Forbes, on Oct. 30, 2015 — a few short months after the ad’s debut — reported that GoDaddy has posted a $71.3 million dollars earnings loss. Per prior years of running weird Super Bowl ads, GoDaddy reported a $200 million net loss in 2013 and, in June 2014, listed its total indebtedness as $1.5 billion. Clearly, there’s a lot more at stake here than advertising, but its fair to say that a brand’s persona and the energy it puts out does have an overall impact. Again, compare Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift. Two talented female artists who write and perform songs based upon their personal values and those they want to project to the world.

Recently, Bloomingdale’s released an ad that suggested “date rape” for holiday partygoers. After much backlash and media attention, which likely upped its overall brand awareness scores at the time, the brand apologized. Only time will really tell if this likely ploy for attention will impact sales, not just this holiday season but down the road when shoppers can choose similar products from other retailers who don’t engage in doing bad for others while trying to gain good for themselves.

Lesson Learned
What you put out in this consumer-driven world of ours comes back. Maybe not immediately, but eventually it does. Because our conscious minds might “sleep” on bad energy; but in time, our survival DNA brings it back to the forefront of our unconscious drivers of behavior, and often influences us to choose “good” over what feels “bad.” Because success for any brand, large or small, lies in long-term sales, not short-term spikes, it’s easy to see that in this world of ours, in politics and in business, good does and will triumph over bad!

Are ‘Geeks’ Re-Invigorating Brands? In a Word, Yes

As we learn to access, integrate and apply data insights, the ad business is getting more quantitative than it’s ever been — let’s pick up the pace.

As we learn to access, integrate and apply data insights, the ad business is getting more quantitative than it’s ever been — let’s pick up the pace.

One of the keynotes I enjoyed from the Direct Marketing Association’s &Then 2015 was IBM’s John Iwata and his announcement that “Cognitive Business” is the company’s new brand positioning. According to Iwata, this replacement for “Smarter Planet” (which I will remember fondly) reflects the realities that are happening when applied technology and artificial intelligence revolutionize a number of fields which IBM serves — including marketing. Take a bow, IBM Watson.

Or how Owen tells his techie friends and family that he now has a job with GE. A venerable brand makes a very data-love statement, and instead of joining a startup, its new commercial hero chooses a job at one of the great champions of the industrial and post-industrial era.

Some may already know many quants have come storming into ad tech, an alternative path to careers on Wall Street. Algorithms are desperately needed to connect relevant content to individuals across devices. The same types of formulae drive programmatic media and audience buying, increasing efficiency and lift.

Our friends at Marketing EDGE — fresh from its Annual Awards Dinner — launched the I-MAX Program [Interactive Marketing Analytics Xperience] in 2013 specifically to build student awareness for careers in marketing data and analysis. Certainly, this is rewarding for students — and it’s a great deal for marketers, too, eager to hire.

There really is a chance for these professionals to create positive impacts, drive innovation in markets — and connect people to the products and services they desire using insights from data as a differentiator. Instead of moving money around in investment banks, they are moving along a global economy (perhaps the same ends in a different way).

GE and IBM certainly captured my attention, so has National Geographic. Merit wins the race: And so we have a competition among us to find, attract, hire and cultivate STEM stars as an integral part of strategic marketing teams. There may not be enough Owens for all of us, so perhaps that’s where Watson may step in. Brands and their advertising partners, in fact the entirety of the marketing field, need to keep doing their quantitative best … Help wanted.

Brands and the Psychology of Fun

What consumers want from brands is not what you think. Best service. Best price. User involvement? Rewards programs? If you’re thinking of the above as the things consumers want most from a brand they patronize, good guess. All apply at some level, but there’s more.

What consumers want from brands is not what you think. Best service. Best price. User involvement? Rewards programs?

If you’re thinking of the above as the things consumers want most from a brand they patronize, good guess. All apply at some level, but there’s more.

While consumers might tell you they want all of the above to keep purchasing from you and refer their friends, there’s another key driver of human behavior you and your customers themselves might not have thought about. Guess again? Hint: Cyndi Lauper did the big reveal 33 years ago.

Yep, consumers just wanna have fun. Yet most of us don’t consciously admit that we respond to fun appeals or humorous marketing tactics. But we do, because unconsciously we are drawn to anything that sparks our curiosity, helps us escape the mundane, or hints at rewarding us for engaging or doing something we didn’t know we could do — like reach a new level on a smartphone game or win a dance contest while totally sober. And when we earn that reward, or even think about it, we get that dopamine rush that makes life feel wonderful and we go back for more.

What we learn from Epicurus, the Greek Philosopher credited with what we now know as the Hedonism theory, human behavior is based upon two emotional premises: the Avoidance of Pain and the Pursuit of Pleasure. As a result of this innate psychological driver, we seek pleasure in life in many ways. That pleasure ranges from knowing we can care for our families, reach our goals, are recognized for a job well done and liked by others, to physical pleasures like the thrill of finishing a long run, getting a soothing massage or downing a favorite ice cream.

In digital vs. ancient times, another “pleasure” we seek is that rush we get when we anticipate an award through our cultural addiction to games. Games on our computers, games on our phones, games we watch on TV, and more. So many games that 1.2 billion people worldwide play them frequently, and 700 million of us play games online, says a report by Spil Games. Another gaming industry company, Newzoo, reports that the 2015 gaming industry is $91.5 billion, up 9.4 percent since 2014.

Another report by RealityMine shows that mobile gaming is increasing substantially every year and that the average session time per game we play is 4.7 minutes. Among the most popular are Words with Friends, Candy Crush and Solitaire, which are played many times a day by many gamers. We also learn that games are not just for teens, as commonly thought. RealityMine shows that 61 percent of gamers are parents with children, more women play games than men, more than 1/3 are 45 years of age or older, and that there are more middle-aged moms playing games than teenagers! Hmmm … sounds like the top consumers for most products today are playing games of some sort every day. If you’re in marketing, this should be added to the top of your “note to self” list.

Why are we so drawn to games? According to psychologists, it’s because so many games help fulfill some basic needs: a sense to compete, feel fulfilled, recognized and that we have achieved something others haven’t. According to a report on gamification created by Bunchball, a leader in the industry, game mechanics fulfill basic human desires that we seek consciously and unconsciously (opens as a PDF). These include our needs for rewards, status, achievement, self- expression, competition and even altruism.

The Fun Theory, a program dedicated to the thought that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for better,” challenges people to come up with fun ideas to get people to do things differently. Ideas that have won The Fun Theory awards include rewarding drivers for not speeding by entering them into a contest to win money accrued by fines paid by speeders, getting people to recycle bottles by making a recycling bin a bottle arcade like you find at an amusement park and increasing the use of stairs by turning them into piano keys that make music. Each of these experiments attracted attention and substantially changed behavior for the better in various cultures around the world.

So does all this talk about fun and games have a place in the marketing world? According to Todd McGee, CEO of Texas-based CataBoom, a gamification company leveraging behavioral insights to create engaging campaigns, it most certainly does.

“From a psychological point of view, ’fun’ engages us in a way that builds trust for a brand,” says McGee. “When customers win, or anticipate winning a prize, they get a dopamine rush that makes them feel good, and customers transfer that feeling to brands. Good feelings result in trust, repeat visits and referrals. So it’s a total win for customers and brands.
For CataBoom, the increases in customer engagement and sales they’re helping to deliver to their clients is just part of the fun of playing games. For one home industry client, the company created a game on Facebook that gave money away every day. As result, 71 percent of the visitors to their Facebook page engaged twice as long. For another company in the food industry, they created a “Spin the Wheel” game for a chance to win free product. People responding set a new record for site visits as they kept coming back to take their chance at the wheel.

Per McGee, CataBoom has seen brands in all industries, from entertainment groups to insurance and financial institutions, achieve not only better engagement, but monetary rewards, as well. Sales have increased as high as 30 times as a result of adding games to a customer experience.

Lesson learned: When life’s routines become a game, and fun is the anticipated reward, behavior changes. When brands integrate fun and games in their customer experience, results can change too.


  • Have Fun. Its not only the spice of life, it’s the driver that gets consumer behavior moving, trusting and, in many cases, buying.
  • Use humor, when and as appropriate, and watch your attention levels soar on social channels and traditional ones, as well.
  • Spark curiosity to get noticed and introduce your customers to a fun brand experience, persona and happy result.

Make sure your customer service follows the rules of fun, as well. and are great examples of companies that add a fun twist to routine sales and purchasing processes online. Their fun responses, language and digital conversations make you want to come back for more.

Now get off of your computer and go have fun!