Happiness Is …

Do Foods that Make you fat equal happiness?
Coca-Cola and Lay’s use “Happiness” to market their products. Why? Does eating unhealthy foods and drinking sugary beverages equal happiness?

Is it surprising that “happiness” is used to advertise Coca-Cola and Lay’s potato chips, two leading brands whose product categories were recently indicted as highly correlated with long-term weight gain? I don’t think so … Let’s not forget how damaging to our dental health these products can be.

Advertising is a very powerful tool for growing a business. Food and beverage manufacturers spend billions of dollars every year to peddle their brands. In 2010 Coca-Cola Co. spent $758 million to advertise its portfolio of brands while Pepsico (owner of Frito-Lay) had just over $1 Billion in ad spending [Ad Age 2010 U.S. Ad Spending and rank]. That’s a pretty sizeable chunk of change. But why do both Coca-Cola and Lay’s sell “happiness” as their respective brand’s promise?

Marketers have known for a long time that connecting a brand to a consumer on an emotional level is one of the most powerful forms of advertising. After all, once a brand has become known for certain features or product benefits, establishing a link to higher-order, emotional benefits truly moves consumers. This process (called “brand laddering”) has been used successfully to market all types of products and services.

A description of brand laddering using Coca-Cola as an example.
Brand Laddering is a trusted marketing technique to drive increased brand loyalty and sales.

Using Coca-Cola as an example, when Coke launched in 1886 it spent it’s early years establishing product features like “delicious” and “refreshing.” Over time that message wasn’t unique enough so Coke laddered up to slogans like “America’s favorite moment” and “The sign of good taste.” Finally, during the past several decades, Coca-Cola’s advertising has been leveraging emotional benefits like “Open Happiness.”

Beyond the shear power of emotional advertising, it also enables a brand to create a mystique that can overwhelm negative aspects of a product. For example, think back to the waning years of tobacco advertising. Most of it portrayed aspirational or emotional messages filled with vivid imagery: Marlboro with its quintessential cowboy or Vantage with groups of friends having fun “alive with pleasure.” The only features or claims that cigarettes made were “low tar” or “low nicotine.” Does that strategy sounds strangely familiar? Think low calorie – Diet Coke or low fat – Baked Lay’s.

Let’s check out some recent “happiness” ads and see what you think:


So? Pretty alluring, huh? I find it hard not to get caught up in these ads. Hopefully the Coca-Cola song won’t be stuck in your head the rest of the day!

It’s indisputable that advertising like this sells more Coca-Cola and Lay’s. Why else would they spend millions of dollars on it? The question is, since these products are linked to long-term health consequences, should brands like Coca-Cola and Lay’s be allowed to continue to advertise? Or do restrictions need to be put in place?

What do you think is the solution?

This Post Has 5 Comments

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Thanks for the compliment on the post. I’m a marketing and business strategy consultant by trade, so I’ve had quite a bit of experience with laddering and emotional benefits.

  1. Jackie

    Having looked at the changes in food popularity in the last 25 years, I am convinced there are three obesity culprits: sugared soda, French fries, and pizza. Chips do not make my list.

  2. Kimber Breaux

    Bruce, I just discovered you when researching Dr. Pont from Dell’s Children Hospital and I love your information. Where to start? HAving toured as a singer songwriter for children’s music and being a survivor of eating disorders, I could not help but notice the foods they market to the kids and beverages as well at these festivals. Low overhead and high profit margin junk food with shelf life of eternity all packaged in neon colors with cool characters or happy, happy kids. I started noticing the same things at the various grocery stores in Austin and everywhere I am sure. HEB level stores are full of neon colors, bright lights, junk food and magazines at check out whereas Whole Foods the colors are calming and for the most part the foods are natural and good. I made an attempt at Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express to pitch to them an educational program much like Play 60 that goes further into the experience of choosing the right foods and suggesting to them a healthier options menu for kids. It met resistance and fell flat. I also have been working on an interactive project for kids involving music and entertainment surrounding young children, “Where Do Cookies Come From.” This project would reach out to children at pre-school early elementary level to get them to think out of the box about why is a cookie sweet, and why does it have to be labeled a treat. Why can’t the cookie have veggies in it? They are making waffle tacos now. So short story long and I apologize for being all over the map. however. I am passionate about this topic and really feel the answer is in early education. Train there taste buds to be entertained by healthier foods, Gear the music and movies with product placement and fun topics that teach them and while they are being entertained feed them healthy foods. That is just a tip of the ice berg on how to address the issue. The under educated are many and those that know need to wake up the masses to the truth about true health foods. Thank you for your time,


    1. Bruce Bradley

      Thanks for your message, Kimber. I agree, and I love some of the ideas you’re talking about. Making real food a positive part of our culture means having positive messages in our music and all kinds of stories. Right now processed food companies dominate the conversation surrounding our food, and we need to change that!

      Thanks again for visiting my site!

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