by Colin Jowell

Look around you. You will see an incredible amount of really happy people. No, these are not people sitting next to you on the train, or greeting you as you trudge into work. They are the happy faces staring back at you from every billboard, TV commercial and “sponsored story” on Facebook.  The message is simple - buy me and your life will be happy. Actually not just happy, ecstatic - to the point that we’d probably call for the guys with the straight-jackets to take you away.

As a result of this steady diet of unbridled glee, is it any wonder we have started playing this back to one another? Well-crafted images of the best versions of people’s “amazing lives” litter Facebook and Instagram. With all of this sharing of love, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was creating better, more positive lives for people, but the exact opposite is happening. “Facebook Induced Anxiety” has become a scientifically recognized thing! It’s a small study but even with a large margin of error, 53% of people said that Facebook made their lives worse, in no small part due to the fact that it lowered their self-esteem, feeling “less confident after comparing their achievements against those of their online friends.”

Which begs the question - if all of this fake “happy” makes people so much sadder, why then is it still so prevalent in marketing communications? The justifications I’ve heard often are “we want to portray the brand in a positive light”. Or “we want to convey the benefit our brand will bring to people’s lives”. Which is noble enough in its intent, but all too often, the execution of this strategy does not extend much deeper than the wafer thin mask of a smile.

It feels like a safe strategy, but that safety disguises the fact that you are totally undifferentiated: not only from your direct competitors, but from every marketers touting the same promise of a more desirable life. We are overwhelmed with choice for the essentially the same product: happiness. And too much choice is well proven to lower sales.

The antidote to this is to get real with yourself. This starts with looking at your brand strategy - and if it’s littered with words like “warm” “positive” and “approachable”, then you have a problem. You either need to replace some of those words, or at the very least augment the list with words that are less vanilla, even confrontational, and very specific to the way you do your business.

Once you do that, it will be far easier to have the bravery to get real in your executions. Highlighting people’s problem in a more insightful way than anyone else isn’t negative or sad. On the contrary, the results may be very happy indeed.