Drinks brands would do well to try to tap into consumer happiness

Drinks brands would do well to try to tap into consumer happiness

The pursuit of happiness may conjure up notions of carefree abandon, but it has become a serious business. Ben Cooper examines how positive psychology - a field of psychological study focused on happiness that has emerged over the past two decades - is in tune with key consumer trends and is proving an effective framework for new approaches to brand marketing.
 
This year saw the publication of the UN's fifth World Happiness Report. Norway was found to be the happiest of the 155 countries examined, the US continued its fall down the rankings, while Sweden and Australia tied for ninth place with a score that was identical, to three decimal places.

Measuring happiness using variables such as wealth (GDP), trust (measured by the absence of corruption), generosity, freedom and good governance, the report contains many other interesting facts. Yet, it represents far more than just a fascinating read. It speaks to a global trend, led by academic thought, which is influencing governments and consumer markets alike.

Gross National Happiness is something politicians are taking increasingly seriously, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. At the same time, understanding 'happiness' is becoming a critical facet of how brands relate to their consumers.

UK-based market research consultancy Join The Dots says happiness provides "a new model for understanding human motivations" and "to be successful, brands need to embrace happiness".

This may be where the more sceptically-inclined begin to scratch their heads and rehearse their "But, surely…" questions.

Happiness has always been important in understanding personal motivation, whether for political or commercial ends. Politicians find a happy electorate easier to inspire and to lead. Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously believed his election victory in 1966 and defeat four years later were both linked to England's contrasting performances in the football World Cup. If political leaders could bottle the "feelgood factor", they most certainly would. Brands likewise have always wanted to 'keep the customer happy', so that they will keep coming back.

Positive psychology

Positive psychology in marketing emphasises positive motivations

Using the term 'happiness' may be problematic in itself. Happiness may instantly be associated with frivolity, with escape, an absence of care, and doesn't sound very scientific. Definitions within the field of positive psychology, an area of study that has emerged during the past 20 years and lies behind the heightened focus on happiness, are more helpful in understanding what is new here. While much psychological theory had focused on dysfunction, positive psychology looks at what makes us happier and helps us thrive. By the same token, positive psychology in marketing emphasises positive motivations.

The work of Join The Dots has been centred around positive psychology thinking. In April, it published the fourth edition of its UK Consumer Happiness Trends report, first launched in 2014. In the 2017 edition, the company has relaunched its happiness framework with a global consumer in mind. Two new "happiness drivers" – security and health – have been added to the existing five. Those five – positive emotions, engagement, relationships, achievement and meaning – have also been re-aligned to mirror the PERMA model of happiness set out by Professor Martin Seligman, generally viewed as the founding father of positive psychology.

It might be argued that positive psychology and its influence on market research is not a consumer trend per se, more a new direction in analysis. However, there is clear resonance between the happiness drivers and the values-led motivations being widely identified in consumers, particularly Millennials, along with greater concern about wellbeing. 
"Marketers are starting to become a lot more sophisticated in how they think about values and emotions," says Dr Alex Gunz, lecturer at the University of Manchester and an expert in the psychology of marketing. "You go back to the Madmen era or even the 80s, it was product benefits, it was much more mechanistic. Now, they're increasingly sophisticated about emotions and values and story-telling and narrative."

The different types of happiness that brands aspire to bring can be seen in terms of positive psychology. The short-term happiness of a brand new TV, or a social drink, might be characterised as hedonistic happiness, which defines happiness in terms of the attainment of pleasure. On the other hand, there is also eudaimonic wellbeing which is far more concerned with sustained feelings of meaning and self-worth. Brands putting over values-led messaging or promoting their own ethical and responsible positions are looking to promote the latter.

Happiness and alcohol

For alcohol brands, short-term 'happiness' is a problematic area. Consumers may associate hedonistic goods with "immediate mood repair", as Gunz puts it, but this would not be a viable message for a drinks advertiser. Advertising codes are strict about how associations between drinking and personal happiness are portrayed, though the depiction of "happy times" is nonetheless a mainstay of alcohol advertising.

Millennial males associate responsible consumption and being in control with feeling "happy, confident and good about themselves"

Tim Burge, culture & trends director at Join The Dots, says its study of Millennial masculinity suggests young Millennial males associate responsible consumption and being in control with feeling "happy, confident and good about themselves". So, positive psychology, and specifically emphasising eudaimonic wellness above hedonistic gratification, may even help alcohol brands to foster responsible alcohol consumption.

Status is also important in the happiness model, Burge adds, so advertising that emphasises personal progression, such as Johnnie Walker's Keep Walking campaign, also fit well with the happiness model. "It's not just about that kind of "in the moment" expression of happiness and enjoyment in a party situation," Burge says. "It's about longitudinal achievement over a period of time."

Gunz sees alcohol brands benefiting from applying positive psychological thought to advertising because of the direct associations consumers make between different drinks and identity.

"There are some products that people don't really identify much with, like your toothpaste or the pen you use. But, there are some like clothes and, for some reason, alcoholic drinks people believe really say a lot about their personality. Who drinks a Martini, versus a Bud Light, versus a Cosmopolitan? If I tell you I drink one of those you're immediately getting quite a detailed picture of who I am and what I value."

In fact, the alcohol sector has recently provided a striking example of positive psychology's influence over contemporary advertising. Heineken's new Open Your World ad features people with diametrically-opposed world views talking as they build a flatpack bar together. They are then shown a film of each espousing his or her contrasting opinions, they choose to remain at the bar to drink a beer and continue their discussions. The ad has been acclaimed as striking just the right tone.

Emotive territory

This type of advertising is deliberately tugging at deeply-held emotions, however, and getting it wrong can be damaging. PepsiCo's ad featuring Kendall Jenner bringing peace to a clash between police and protestors by offering a cop a Pepsi was pulled in April. It was derided by, among others, the daughter of Martin Luther King, who tweeted: "If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi."

PepsiCo apologised profusely for "missing the mark" in what it said was a genuine attempt to "project a global message of unity, peace and understanding". McDonald's was also recently forced to pull an ad in which a boy asks his mother repeatedly what his deceased father was like. He is coming to the realisation he is nothing like him until his mother reveals they both liked a Filet-O-Fish. This ad perhaps shows just how far brands are now prepared to venture into emotive psychological territory, though it is hardly surprising this proved several steps too far.

Hit the right mark, Gunz says, and there are rich rewards to be gained in terms of brand loyalty. "This is why everyone's chasing it, because then you're speaking to the stuff that's important to people," Gunz tells just-drinks. "Once someone's adopted something into their identity it becomes very immune to attack." On the other hand, Gunz adds: "The thing about these values is the more important they are to, people the more you have to treat it with respect and get it right."

Coca-Cola's decision last year to change its global tagline from "Open Happiness" to "Taste the Feeling" reflected in part some unease, articulated by global marketing chief Marcos de Quinto in an interview for Advertising Age, that the brand's advertising had started to sound "preachy".

However, the change of tagline speaks to other priorities and Coca-Cola's high-profile approach to sustainability shows the continued importance it attaches to seeking resonance with consumers' values. That it ran with "Open Happiness" for seven years is perhaps the more telling fact. The soft drinks giant was simply an early adopter.

There is clearly a focus on Millennial consumers in the happiness discourse, but Burge feels positive psychology can be applied very broadly in demographic terms. "We definitely see these things as relevant to other age brackets," he says. "Inevitably, the resonance of the trends sat a lot more strongly with the Millennial generation, but you also found with the older demographic there were similar patterns and nuances. I think that's because of the ubiquitousness of technology and access to information, whether you're old or young. There's a lot that's shared as well as a lot that attitudinally might be different."

The digital revolution has undoubtedly been a huge facilitator for brands transmitting value messaging and backstories, and the application of positive psychology to brand marketing would have been far more challenging in the pre-digital age. In today's connected world, however, it is a natural fit with key current consumer trends and is arguably both lens and mirror.