The secret of marketing ‘happiness’

Of late there’s a lot of “happiness” around us. Whether in India or any other country, from Domino’s Pizza (Khushiyon ki Home Delivery) to Max New York Life Insurance (Khushiyon Ki Planning), or Coke with its global ‘Open Happiness’ campaign. Almost in every category you’ll find a product that just promises happiness. All this happiness talk makes me wonder – Why use a word so simple? Why not say something that’s more tangible and comparable such as “faster”, “cheaper” or “healthier”?

To begin with, how will you make people happy? I personally switch between so many underlying themes that provide my daily happiness, that I sat down and compiled a list (see Slidedeck below) to help me understand this better.

I concluded that happiness usually comes from three broad themes – cherished memory, present calm, or future excitement.

I also found consumer research studies at Stanford and Wharton which concluded that our choices significantly differed on whether we perceived happiness as calm vs. exciting i.e. now vs. later. The fascinating part of this research was that we’re all very flexible about the choice for our current theme, and we can be primed to prefer one theme over the other. Simply reminding people that happiness is about the present moment (e.g. offering herbal tea or making them read a spiritual quote), will make them prefer a product that offers calm. Reminding them about their future, will make them choose products that make their future more exciting.

The spiritual world tells us that happiness is a choice. The marketing world has found that we’re very flexible when making this choice. We can be nudged to associate our happiness to our past, present or future at any given moment, and this association subconsciously influences the immediate choices we make.

That’s powerful, and reveals why product marketers’ love to offer one of the broad themes of happiness and link their products to it. Well, let’s forgive them as long as they live up to the heightened expectations that come with making us happy!

A personal collection of happiness themes:


  1. Atul Kulkarni

    Good question to worry/think abt :)

    In academic research, we say happiness is a function of four dimensions per se: (life) satisfaction, positive affect, negative affect, and (job/task) satisfaction/engagement. Whereas first and to a lesser extent fourth are more cognitive (thinking-based), second and third are more affective (feeling-based).

    When you say happiness can be explained in terms of past, present, and future, it paints the story interestingly about temporal nature of happiness. Still, at a more basic level, I guess it can be reduced to the above dimensions. Interestingly enough, culture seems to influence which of the four dimensions are emphasized, with affective ones weighted more on the western hemisphere.

    I know good work has been done in this area by Ed Diener at Illinois, and Dan Gilbert at Harvard among many others.

    • Anjali Gupta

      Thanks for the comment, Atul. Your inputs are very interesting, and yes I did read some work that explained the role of culture, where eastern cultures seem to associate happiness more with present calm. Even age had some effect, where young people are more futuristic. Thanks for the references. Will look them up too.
      If you have any suggestions for papers on behavioral marketing, do let me know.

  2. Atul Kulkarni

    Sure, will be happy to recommend some that I know. Could you let me know which aspect of behavioral research you are interested in? Loosely speaking, there is research about behavioral pricing, behavioral strategy, behavioral responses to promotions, and so on. If you could let me know which of these areas you are most interested in, I would be able to send some interesting papers to you. Personally, I have more knowledge of the behavioral pricing literature since that has been my research area predominantly so far.

  3. Hi Anjali,
    Here’s one theme from me – discovering a way of doing something that helps you do it better, quicker or simply with less difficulty than before.

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