October 27th 2014

Branding happy

by Martin O'Toole

I'm happy. quite often in fact. And just recently it occurred to me that brands are telling me that I should be. I know! Who knew?! Last week, I bought a new iPhone 6, and as I walked out of the O2 shop with my new purchase, I noticed that the bag boldly declared there was 'Happy Inside'.

Yup... That brown paper bag was the beginning of a realisation that brands including O2, Coca-Cola, Jet2, Hubert's Lemonade, plus a few others have all recently adopted a brand strategy related to owning the emotional concept otherwise known as happiness. Pretty interesting when you start to think about it.

But is it really possible for a brand to make us happy or is it arrogance personified to suggest that a brand can own the delivery mechanism of happiness? I've mixed feelings about it as it goes...


Did my O2 bag contain happiness? Yes it did. It contained a new iPhone 6 and a Tech21 wonder-case. Who wouldn't be happy with a new iPhone?! But here's the thing: that's not thanks to O2. O2 are responsible for my £50 a month phone bill and the barmy international roaming fees I get nailed for. There's no happiness in my interactions with O2. In fact, my retail experience was poor. I had to wait for 20 minutes to be served; unsure of where to seek assistance in their badly designed store - to be fleeced on a phone upgrade and tied into another 24-month contract. So can they lay claim to happiness merely by being a retailer of another brand? Not in my book. The happy-factor belongs to Apple or Samsung etc. Not O2.


My girlfriend and I just came back from a trip around the deep south of America and whilst in Atlanta, we visited the World of Coca-Cola. For those unaware of this place, Coke was invented in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia. This place is a huge attraction/exhibition, solely dedicated to celebrating the history and present-day wonder that is Coke. As historical exhibitions go, it was a bit crap. Mainly because a large part of the place is designed to hit you with multiple advertising and branding messages like you've never seen before. The whole experience is designed to brainwash.

One thing I did really love though, was the 8-minute film they made us watch after herding us into a mini-cinema. The film was a lovely piece of content, made up of UGC (see my previous blog about Coke and UGC here) and crafted film - set to 'I'm on top of the world' by Imagine Dragons. I'd love to show you the film, but Coke are keeping this bad-boy all to themselves - specifically for use within the exhibition. Imagine a combination of happy families, people doing extreme sports, friends and families having a laugh together, veterans making surprise returns home from Afganistan and couples in love - all weaved in and out of a song that makes even the grumpiest person upbeat and cheerful. There wasn't a dry eye in the cinema - it was amazing. I mean amazing. And then we were all unleashed on the remainder of the exhibition - free to try circa 1,500 different flavours of drinks - and buy as much Coke merchandising as our touristic hands could manage. The film was all about Coke owning happiness and you know what? They did. The film we watched most certainly made us happy. The shame is that the rest of the exhibition was a total let-down and my girlfriend (Coke's biggest global fan) was left rather deflated afterwards.

Is Coke saying "our product creates happiness" or is it a simple exercise in brand association and 'story telling'? Does drinking Coke make us happy?


The infographic below was published by The Guardian as part of a piece on a national survey garnering the 'mood of the nation'. Part of the survey asked people how they felt about certain brands and whether brands played a part in their happiness 67% of the population actually name brands. At face value, it might look as if consumers are still highly susceptible to brand advertising. If, as the survey suggests, John Lewis is the most happy-inducing brand in the UK, you have to ask yourself how/why? Or is it simply because in recent years the nation has come to await and love their Christmas ad campaign..? Surely dragging your arse around John Lewis on a Saturday doesn't make you happy, right??

Though The Guardian does go on to explain some of the narrative to the survey. Two key questions The Guardian asked were as follows:

Does the study suggest that people's expectations of brands are changing? The study suggests that far from going away, ethical business practices are becoming more important for people, and therefore are no longer just 'nice to have' for brands.

What are the implications of the study for brand owners? Brands can make people happy through ethical business practices, through addressing their target audience's expectations by bringing elements that make their customers happy to the top of the agenda, and sometimes through unexpected acts of kindness.__


So according to the research, consumers want more from brands in order to feel truly happy. They expect a deeper level of ethical behaviour; they expect brands to put consumers' needs to the top of their agendas; and they expect brands to do the unexpected - surprising and delighting. Only then can they conjure up genuine happiness within their consumers.

When it comes to brands making bold statements about how their experience will make you feel, it really does still come down to one thing: is your brand experience in-line with what your marketing promises us? If you're going to be as bold as Coke, be sure to back it up with a product that tastes great and some marketing that does a great job of associating the brand with happy consumers.

Ask yourself this: what does your brand marketing currently convey to your consumers? Overlay that with the actual reality of what it currently delivers. Is it in-line?

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*The Mood of the Nation research was conducted in January 2013 in the UK, and involved qualitative interviews and a quantitative survey. The survey was carried out among a nationally representative UK sample of 2,141 people. Credit to The Guardian for some of the content within this blog.