“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness” – Don Draper (MadMen Season 1, Episode 1)
With the start of a new year it’s fair to say we’re all experiencing various emotions, happiness being just one of them. February is just around the corner and so we’re now at the crucial stage where all those ‘new year, new me’ plans and promises are teetering on the edge of becoming an established part of our lives, or gradually fading into non-existence until the next ‘obligatory’ time for change. However, despite its obligatory and repetitive nature, reinvention for the New Year is more than likely a positive step in the right direction. If they haven’t already, individuals, brands and agencies alike are stepping back and taking a hard look at themselves; for which the New Year provides a great excuse. As people, brands and agencies we are constantly evolving and a new year is the perfect chance to demonstrate this to the outside world. Look no further than Grey London’s CEO, Nils Leonard, for advice on reassessment in 2016. If you haven’t read this already you should!
So where does the New Year leave us? For many individuals, the January blues are well and truly present and a pick-me-up is in order. For others, the promise of a fresh start is an exciting opportunity. I myself, can safely say that I currently fit into the January blues category. In any case, we are in a particularly emotional time of the year one way or another. With all of these feelings flying around it got me thinking… what could bring me out of my January blues? Is there a brand who I’d look to to cheer me up and get me excited about the coming year? Further still, what should I expect from brands? It is really their job to make me happy? If it is, then brands are under pressure to cheer a lot of people up.
Coca Cola have chosen to swerve such pressure in 2016 by adopting a more subtle method of connecting with their consumers emotionally. According to Coke’s creative boss (Rodolfo Echeverria), happiness is an overused concept in contemporary culture. For this reason they have opted to move away from their direct tagline ‘Open Happiness’, in place since 2009, and move on to a more understated proposition ‘Taste the Feeling’. This repositions them as an emotive brand, without including a promise of happiness.
There are two ways to look at this move. Maybe Coca Cola, amongst other brands who opt for allusive emotional propositions, are hedging their bets and avoiding criticism for a questionable promise. It’s certainly true that there’s a large gap between opening a bottle of Coke and achieving happiness; one which many of us might struggle to fill. Perhaps it’s unreasonable for brands to portray this as a possibility and, more so, for consumers to expect brands to give them happiness. Overt emotional branding can sometimes be too direct and too demanding, whilst the expectation of happiness could leave us disappointed and disconnected from our most favourite brands. On the other hand, maybe Coca Cola have done some pre-New Year reassessment and come up with a more realistic approach to emotional branding.
Personally, I’d opt for the latter view. No longer is it mandatory that brands evoke happiness. It’s easy to think that emotional branding defaults to happiness, and the feel-good factor you get with a purchase, as Draper suggests. An emotional pull is a necessity for any brand. What is branding if it doesn’t tug at a heart string, or ignite a desire? Most purchases aren’t based on logic. At that point of purchase, although we may go through a logical dilemma of whether we really need that extra pair of shoes, etc., ultimately that emotional pull causes us to reach for our credit card. But does this pull have to be happiness? I don’t think so. Perhaps at some stage consumers were looking to brands to make them feel happy, but now I think we simply want them to make us feel. As branding is evolving so too are we as consumers and, therefore, our expectation of branding is far more complex than producing happiness alone.
So maybe we can forgive brands for giving us what they thought we wanted and promising that they’d make us happy. They were only trying to build our egos and get us through the year. However, if happiness is truly an overused and overstated promise, as it appears to be, then it would be good to see more agencies branching out and challenging consumers to feel all sorts of things. Let’s all take a leaf out of Nils Leonard’s book and break the mold in 2016 by building truly memorable brands that expand beyond what we want them to, outside of the safety of happiness.
In 2016, I’d like brands to challenge my emotions, extend my senses and leave me with no option but to purchase. By evoking a wider spectrum of emotions, or leaving us to read between the lines and decide how we’re going to connect with their brand, we’ll develop a deeper connection with them and, maybe, a bond for life.