Got Happiness? Where Marketing Meets the Science of Well-Being

Have you noticed the number of companies that are no longer promising the best quality, experience or even the best price for a product or service as the reason to give them a try? Instead they appear to be offering something we used to think money couldn't buy -- happiness.
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Are you happy? Have you noticed the number of companies that are no longer promising the best quality, experience or even the best price for a product or service as the reason to give them a try? Instead they appear to be offering something we used to think money couldn't buy -- happiness. Retailers, manufacturers, service providers all want you to know how they bring more than just "good things to life," they can make you happy too.

Here are just a few examples:

Campbell's Soup is now making your happy place anywhere you have your soup. Offering a "smile in every spoonful" Campbell's is blending healthy with happiness. On a recent walk through Best Buy I read a commanding sign "Buyer Be Happy." Coca-Cola is offering more than refreshment, now I can -- "Open Happiness." And it is not just 'stuff' that promises to make me happy, services can be downright giddy too. Few people who fly often equate flying with happiness, but JetBlue brought enough innovation to its service that you don't just fly -- you "jet."Their promos onboard and on roadside billboards now promise you will "jet happy."

Happiness is far from new to marketing. Marketers have always used unstated but ever-present cues to elicit emotion to connect with and commit the consumer. Feeling down, 'retail therapy' will make you happy. Shopping for 'I gotta have' items will provide happy relief. Getting 'I wanna have' will produce happy satisfaction. Today there is the expressed promise of happiness stamped on the ingredients label of nearly every product, service and experience. But marketers may be doing more than giving happiness a push, they may, in fact, be touching a powerful generational cord of personal well-being.

The science of well-being has developed rapidly in recent years. Beyond the traditional considerations of physical health, well-being now includes multiple dimensions that capture the whole person. Happiness is certainly a prominent theme. Perhaps the best developed measure of well-being is the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The Index bases its assessment of America's well-being on a daily survey of 1,000 people collecting data on six dimensions:

  • Life satisfaction -- how is life today and how do you think it will be five years from now?
  • Emotional health -- have you experienced happiness, stress, sadness, anger, etc. today or recently?
  • Physical health -- how is your energy level, have you slept and rested well, are you managing chronic disease(s), does your physical health get in the way of daily activities?
  • Healthy behaviors -- are you eating well, exercising, not smoking, etc.?
  • Work environment -- how happy or satisfied are you with your workplace?
  • Basic access -- do you have access to basic needs, health services, clean food and water, feel safe, satisfied and happy with where you live, etc.?
After four years and more than one million survey responses a pattern emerges. Little surprise, younger adults ages 18 to about 25 years old
a high state of well-being. After 25 years old, however, young adults experience lower well-being leveling off until about age 37. But at about 37 years old most of us descend into a statistical trench for nearly 20 years. The lowest state of well-being is reported by adults 37 to nearly 60 years old. Got happiness? For middle-aged adults -- they may be fresh out. Even adults ages 65 and older report well-being that rivals and surpasses older teens. Interestingly, elder consumers 75-plus report the highest state of well-being of any age group despite chronic diseases and the associated challenges of aging.

So what's up with middle age? There are names, bad jokes, attitudes, conditions and very real medical explanations for midlife blues -- but what is not lost on marketers is that adults in midlife have the largest proportion of discretionary income of any age group. They are also more likely to be the key influencer (often the financier as well) of what their children and elderly parents buy. Moreover, midlifers (older Gen X and younger baby boomers) are more likely to buy high style, high tech -- and given their lower state of well-being -- may be willing to pay a high price for happiness.

Marketing happiness has potential but is not without peril. Older Gen X and younger baby boomers may buy once, but once disappointed a product or service may pay dearly for not delivering to a discerning and inpatient midlife consumer. Delivering on the promise of happiness requires understanding what might be leading to diminished well-being and how the product, service or experience fills the void or provides temporary relief well beyond the thrill of the retail kill. Among the reasons midlife consumers may have lower states of well-being is they are busy -- sandwiched between kids, career, aging parents and all the things called life in between. For them, Starbucks delivers a moment of peace in an otherwise crazed day. Amazon's smiling logo is about making life easier and for stressed midlifers that means happier. BMW promises to deliver joy in an otherwise frustrating daily commute. Creatively mapping happiness to what influences well-being across the lifespan may make more than a good jingle, it makes good strategy -- done correctly it might deliver a few smiles too.

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