A Movement for Happiness

“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing, is okay. You are okay”.

Don Draper, Mad Men

We are richer than ever before, and yet no happier.

It’s an uncomfortable truth –  and one which has to make us think that, maybe, we’re directing our energy into the wrong kind of progress. Beyond a certain level of economic functioning, increased GDP is not producing more life satisfaction. This is why Richard Layard, an economist and Labour peer in the House of Lords,  has started a movement for happiness. He believes that the role of government and society should be to create conditions which makes us happier.

It makes me wonder what the role of brands and advertising is, in this context. Some people might argue that a culture of consumerism is diametrically opposed to happiness. This was nicely illustrated by The Joneses last year, exploring the dark extremes of status competition. The problem with materialism, is summed up by a concept called the hedonic treadmill (via Ken). We continually work harder in pursuit of “more” yet get nowhere – we return to the same base level of happiness regardless of what we achieve or gain.

But isn’t advertising, as Don Draper observes, built on the premise of selling happiness? No it isn’t – not really. Advertising has been selling status, contentment, pleasure, possibly even transient moments of joy. But new cars, freedom from fear, reassurance – none of those things are the same as happiness.

Do we know what happiness even is? Yes actually, we have a fair idea. Contrary to expectations, the secret to being happy is not really a secret. There’s considerable evidence around what makes us happy, emerging from respected universities researching positive psychology. Richard Layard lists five activities which are associated with higher levels of happiness, spelling GREAT:

1. Giving

2. Relating to other people

3. Exercising the body

4. Attending to the world around you

5. Teaching yourself something fresh

Advertisers who are selling a product or experience, which can facilitate any or all of these things, could genuinely speak in this happiness space. Not only would they be connecting with one of the deepest desires held by all of us, but these brands could contribute to forwarding the cause of happiness for humankind.

Weighty stuff. Probably worth repeating. These brands could contribute to forwarding the cause of happiness for humankind.

I’ve spoken before about missionary brands, brands which take on and tackle social ideas. We have brands which campaign for Real Beauty and Real Food – maybe it’s about time for some brands to start campaigning for Real Happiness?

  1. What about “joy” though?
    Cadbury’s and now BMW overtly speak to us about joy in their advertising.
    I wonder, is joy different from happiness?

      • Neasa Cunniffe
      • September 29th, 2010

      Yes you’re right – Cadbury’s are selling “Joy” and Coke is about “open happiness” – but I would propose that neither is actually about happiness, and probably not even joy even if they’d like to be – both products are about transient moments of pleasure which I think is a very different feeling and mindstate.

      I think a lot of advertisements that seem to be promising happiness are actually masking very different motivations – pleasure, hedonism, status, achievement, indulgence etc. That’s what we’ve been selling. Whereas real happiness, is mostly untapped as a territory.

    • Leo Moore
    • October 5th, 2010

    Great post, Neasa. it shows the importance of brand’s having a social mission (What we do”) rather than a proposition (“what we are”). Promoting happiness, real as opposed to transient, would be a brilliant social mission for any brand and could drive amazingly connective work. I’ll watch this space….

      • Neasa Cunniffe
      • October 5th, 2010

      Thanks Leo! Yes that’s a really concise way of putting it. I look at the brands who I think are really succeeding in this generation – Apple, Innocent, Nike – and they all have a “what we do” way of looking at their communication – and looking at their business as a whole. Like Nike’s 11 Maxims -It’s all about action, not description. http://www.atkinsonadvisor.com/idea-of-that-thing/nikes-11-maxims.

        • Leo Moore
        • October 6th, 2010

        That’s why Nike’s spend has gone from 20% production:80% media to 80% production:20% media.

        • Neasa Cunniffe
        • October 6th, 2010

        Yes absolutely! And why they say they don’t make Ads anymore, they just make “cool stuff”

  1. April 3rd, 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: