Comment: The selling power of smiles

Jono Holt explains how creating a sense of happiness through advertising campaigns can help brands connect better with their audiences.

Jono Holt is the founder of Otherway, a London design and advertising studio.

It's a very simple truth that many brands (and people) forget – if nobody's listening to you, then it doesn't matter what you have to say.

When it comes to branding, messaging and advertising, it's safe to assume that no one can be bothered to listen, nor do they have the time or patience to do so. By starting here and assuming there's currently no audience for your messages, it means that before you start to think about what you have to say, you need to first work out who you want to say it to and, most importantly, why they would care.

Both new and old brands spend far too much time and effort simply saying what they want to say, with no regard for their audience's interest (or lack of interest) in them. Not enough consideration is given to the fact that their audiences don't care about what they have to say and therefore don't even bother listening, reading or watching. The marketing phrases ‘earned media’ or ‘earned attention’ are relevant for everything a brand says and does. It's optimistic to think that just because you've paid for the media, your audience will listen.

What's more, people today are increasingly empowered to skip, block, filter or just hide away from marketing messages. They can cancel brands from their lives. This means we have to work harder than ever to genuinely connect with people and get them to give up their valuable time and listen. But just talking (or in some cases shouting) about yourself isn't the answer. As with all conversations, the worst ones are usually when someone talks just about themselves, with no regard for the other participant's interests. We not only tune out fast, but we usually look for the first excuse to escape the situation (and never return). 

So, in a world where it's now easier to skip an advert than read it, how can brands reconnect with people and encourage them to listen?

One answer is to make people smile.

Since the beginning of advertising, brands have sought to create happiness to connect to people's emotions. Don Draper from TV show Mad Men said: ‘Advertising is based on one thing – happiness.’ Looking beyond fictional TV characters, experts in behavioral science tend to agree. Orlando Wood, an author on behavioral science and creativity, writes in his book Look Out that creating brand communications with wit, charm and human vitality is the key to effectiveness.

Brands tend to focus too much on the rational part of people's brains, using narrow messaging that fails to connect to people's emotions. According to psychiatrist and neuropsychologist Iain McGilchrist, society's attention typically narrows following significant technological changes – they cause an increase in levels of insecurity and fear among artists and creators.

So, as the metaverse approaches, algorithms constantly change and new advertising platforms emerge, let's not forget about the need for happiness to connect with people. Whether it elicits just a wry smile or a full-on laugh, next time you're thinking about your brand messaging, ask yourself: how happy is this going to make people? If the answer is ‘not very’, then start again. After all, if nobody is listening to you, then it doesn't matter what you have to say.

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