Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marketers Teach Happiness to Sell Products

One of the most well-known campaigns to sell "happiness."
From 2010 and High Heels.
Today I read this interesting Fast Company article about a consultant who specializes in teaching corporations how to market happiness. Her name is Jennifer Aaker, and she teaches a Stanford graduate marketing class entitled "Designing Happiness". She also consults with AOL, Facebook, Adobe, and other corporations.

According to Aaker, "The idea of brands enabling happiness and providing greater meaning in the world is powerful. People have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured." The article also mentions John Kenny of the ad agency DraftFCB saying that nostalgia and other "safe emotions" can create happiness in an ad campaign, making happiness into a commodity used to sell products.

Students in Aaker's class create a photo project by taking pictures of happy moments for a month, then rating those moments on a scale of one to ten, thereby allowing themselves to discover moments that they didn't realize could make them happy. They apply the happiness principals they learn to a fictional company.

How do YOU feel about this corporatized streak in happiness research? We've seen before that when corporations take employee happiness seriously, they increase productivity and stock price, so everyone benefits. Happiness classes can also be a great experience for students, and Jennifer Aaker sounds like a great teacher.

HOWEVER, I sort of feel like using those principles to sell products steps over the line into creepiness. Does Coca Cola actually make people happy? No, it doesn't--at least in the longterm, after the sugar and caffeine leave your system. Coke is flavored high fructose corn syrup that will harm your body and actually ruin your smile if you drink too much, so why pretend that it causes happiness? It's the same thing with these other companies. I'm sure marketers love creating emotional links in consumers, but in the real world their products invite no emotion whatsoever. Now they seem to be explicitly using happiness as just another cynical tool used to manipulate consumers instead of a worthy goal in itself.

Maybe people will know the difference between the short-term pleasure that comes from a newly-bought item and the longterm happiness that comes from meaningful social connection and personal action. Hopefully?


  1. Ah yes! And she also co-wrote a book "The Dragonfly Effect"! I'm following their blog too :)

    I loved this idea - "Students in Aaker's class create a photo project by taking pictures of happy moments for a month, then rating those moments on a scale of one to ten, thereby allowing themselves to discover moments that they didn't realize could make them happy" - it's basically how my thankful project worked. By tryign to fidn something, no matter how big or small, to be thankful for each day, I realized so many things that were contributing to me feeling happy, it totally changed my life. I just didn't use to notice so many things before. Anyways, back to the topic! I'm such a healh food advocate that I totally feel you on the coke thing. Howevere, I kind of happen to be a fan of marketing too, so I'm all for creating happier ads (we really don't need more negativity int his world), BUT it's only good when a consumer is educated enough to make a councius choice that is good for them. I don't frink coke, but most of the time I really enjoy watching their ads because, frankly, they DO create happy feelings, make me a little nostalgic and even remind me of my careless childhood Xmas days, yes. But that's wgere I draw the line - I watch the ads and drink my green tea. Coke loses, I win on all fronts, ha!.. (Don't tell Coke-Cola I confessed this to you!)

  2. Yeah, that photo project sounds like a great idea that everyone should try. And that's also a good point about ads making people happy in and of themselves. I guess the alternative would be advertising that makes people sad or bored? No, I don't want that, but I think what bothers me about these recent Coke ads (and the others mentioned) is how explicit they are in saying "this product will make you happy" (instead of just "this tastes good" or "this is fun") when actually the product itself doesn't create any emotions, except for short-term pleasure and a mild form of addiction. All advertising is a little bit misleading, but this sort of thing strikes me as even more dishonest than usual. It's good that you can enjoy ads without buying, though (that's basically what American Super Bowl ads are made for). Everyone should educate themselves about advertising!

  3. ‎"a consultant who specializes in teaching corporations how to market happiness" ... sounds very disgusting to me to be honest.

    for a long time already advertising has been suggesting that we'll be happy by consuming a cerain product. takin...g into account the current state of science it could go both ways. but I'm affraid that large companies will have better funding to push their message through in a more powerful way and people like Jennifer Aaker are helping them get there. I'd like to talk to her personally. hope she's aware of the dangers of what she's doing there...


    big coorporations actually do have the means to help us be happier. but usually not with their products. however, if coca cola will fund projects and awareness campaigns of how to increase wellbeing and life satisfaction then i won't mind to have a can of coke everyday. THAT is the way forward. it usually cannot be linked to the actually product they're selling.
    red bull has been doing it for years. they are a driving force behind a whole lot of events of various extreme sports, which are linked to flow, relatedness, competence, autonomy, personal growth, pleasure and meaning. they sponsor happenings, give athletes the opportunity to focus on progress and creativity and bring it to the public awareness. nevermind the drink itself is not healthy (everybody should know that anyway, but i think coffee is about as unhealthy).

  4. dj: the top comment is pretty similar to my own initial reaction, but I also agree with the bottom. I've been to a Red Bull event before (the Flugtag flying machine contest in Long Beach) and it was great and quite unique. That's an example of a company doing interesting things with its brand, so of course it's possible for good things to come from an unhealthy product (and I'm pretty sure Red Bull has a lot of unhealthy chemicals and preservatives that coffee doesn't have, and not even Coca Cola). I also don't think Red Bull ever labeled their drink with "Open Happiness" or other such nonsense, so this topic doesn't really apply to them anyway. It may sound like a minor distinction between ad slogans (which always have a positive spin and are always a bit misleading), but explicitly using happiness research to sell products seems more cynical and easy to abuse than usual. That's my main issue with this, not necessarily with advertising in general or even with unhealthy products.

  5. LOL at the "mild form of addiction"! Sometimes not even a mild form, unfortunately... But yeah, I know what you mean about such advertising being dishonest. In a lot of ways, any advertising is kind of dishonest. Because frankly, if a person wants and needs something, they will get it regardless of whether you tell them it's good or not - just let them know it exists!

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