Can effective brands really make people happier?

New research by Havas Media shows that over three quarters of people think brands should contribute to quality of life and wellbeing — we speak to creatives about whether companies can truly have a positive impact on people’s lives, and if so, which succeed at doing so.

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

“This is a multi-layered and philosophical question. Great brands deliver a connection beyond their function, but brands which ‘make life better’ like this are simply doing good marketing. For example, brands such as Amazon, which lets me shop while doing some bedtime reading, are tripping me up and drawing me in when my defences are down.

Yes, it’s useful to order cat food from bed, but it would be naive of me to be grateful to Amazon for this intrusion into my private life. Brands that make the effort with their design, marketing and new product development might improve my life, but they are doing it to grow, not to be altruistic.

The brands with which I feel a deep connection are either supreme and unrelenting at what they do, an ingrained part of life, or a joyful discovery. I’ll probably always feel safe with John Lewis. Reiko has replaced all other trousers. Lego’s reinvention, from the interchangeable bricks of my childhood to the phenomenally engineered sets that my son owns, is genius.”

Katie Cadwallader, designer, Supple Studio

“I hope I’m not the only designer who turns into a magpie walking down the high street. Being attracted to beautiful things means I can be the ultimate consumer. But the experience of a brand means so much more these days; scrolling through endless Amazon pages doesn’t replicate the moment I walk into a sweet smelling, serene Anthropologie store.

I escape there at lunchtimes during a particularly stressful day, comforted by the colours, sounds and textures (and the air of aspiration).

It’s sensory heaven; each window a piece of art, the ceiling covered in old doors, a giant whale made of pegs hanging in the middle of the store, the staff wearing a mixture of exquisite tailoring and dungarees covered in paint. If you can’t afford a retreat, you probably can’t afford an Anthropologie candle either — but it is free to meditate in their aisles for half an hour, if you fancy.”

Simon Manchipp, founder, Someone

“Almost every day, my colleagues and I are asked to help organisations find their deeper purpose, unravel their values and promote a part of life they can slot into to make the most profitable contribution possible to their audience’s lives. That’s competitive commercial reality.

Brands that do find positions to occupy in life that genuinely benefit people can make significant contributions to how societies behave and make good profits in the process. Apple and Google are obvious examples of this.

Yet if brands are the collective reputations of products, services and organisations, surely the question of ‘what brands make your life better’ is a recipe for making life worse. Do people need to look to products, services and organisations to fill emotive voids, expand personal horizons, and satisfy deeper desires?

Once, in Amsterdam, a person I was travelling with, went to a ‘coffee shop’ and asked the vendor for some marijuana. He asked for something that would ‘make [him] laugh’ and ‘make [him] happy’. Without missing a beat, the shop owner smiled back and said: ‘My friend, drugs won’t make you happy.’ Long term, I suspect brands are the same. They serve a purpose, but don’t provide purpose. They may raise a smile, but don’t deliver happiness.

Commercial advantage consists of many aspects, but true happiness lies in simple things. When on Desert Island Discs, celebrated singer Tom Jones was asked for his choice of a luxury item to help him feel happier in splendid island isolation — his choice was a bucket and spade.”

Emily Penny, independent brand consultant, Be Colourful

“There is growing interest in buying ethical brands, but while these used to be niche and socially-driven, today ethical branding is a popular commercial strategy and customers are realising they need to interrogate the authenticity of these ethical promises. Branding professionals need to question it, too.

I turn ‘products’ into ‘brands’ every day, so I have a huge problem with the term ‘brand purpose’ being hijacked to mean any socially-motivated activity.

My work is about core ‘brand purpose’, which means the purpose of the brand and its strategy — this might focus on functional value, psychological value, intellectual value, or social value, which must be fully embraced internally by the company to be authentic.

Ethics alone won’t make for a successful brand if the product doesn’t deliver functionally, as consumers are savvy when it comes to spending money.

So, while ethical brands should be applauded (and ideally, should be the norm), as branding and design professionals, let’s be cautious of the fashion for ethical. Don’t feel it has to be the core purpose and stop saying ‘brand purpose’ if you actually mean social value.

Right now, my favourite brand is Boston Tea Party, a café chain in the south of England that delivers on all fronts. I value it as a community meeting space, I admire its campaign against single-use plastic, but most of all, I go back for the delicious sweetcorn hash.”

Alice Dobbie, designer, Clerkenwell Brothers

“Ikea, the flatpack innovator, guided by the philosophy of ‘democratic design’, is a brand that has improved the quality of my life immensely. As a graphic designer with a keen interest in product and interior design, my home and the objects within it have a huge impact on my wellbeing.

Designing by five key principles of form, function, sustainability, quality and value, Ikea has made stylish, well-designed furniture affordable and available to the masses.

From the offering of tape measures and their classic little, wooden pencils dotted around the shops, to the iconic infographics within their furniture build manuals, every detail of the Ikea brand experience makes creating a pleasant space for living in almost effortless.”

Which brands make you happier? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Faith March 12, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Boots makes me happy because it’s a beacon of hope. You know that wherever you are, whatever desperate circumstance you’re in, it will deliver. Not just in terms of its products, but in terms of its warm, comforting lighting, clear shop design, and friendly staff. What it delivers is consistency, uniformity and predictability. So important when you’re somewhere unfamiliar and not very nice with raw, aching, blistery feet / murderous hangover / painful period.

  • Robert Speechley March 12, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Muji works for me when it comes to T-Shirts, Gel Pens and Note Pads.
    Though I have bought other things there too. I think the atmosphere is pleasing
    and I guess I buy into their philosophy as a Brand

  • Toby Dodwell March 13, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    John Lewis has the ability to transform your future life. Walking through the store into the various areas it has this air of in the moment & forthcoming life, beautiful timeless brands that feel very current but also heritage, as it spans the generations it feels like you could shop there for life. Once a year it also transcends itself to your home with its thought-provoking festive advert that pulls the heartstring by pushing past the sale buy now & into think, share & love.

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