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If Money Can't Buy You Love, How About Happiness or Better Yet . . . Joy?

by julia • March 6

Did you notice all the happiness and joy in the air during the Olympics? I'm not talking about the athletes and their proud parents, but the happiness and joy that filled the commercial segments in between their exploits.

Coca-Cola has found its groove with “Open Happiness,” an optimistic ode to small pleasures and all things good in the world. Even GE made me smile with their celebration of the heroics of healthcare workers in a faux-Superbowl stadium setting. How refreshing to watch something uplifting about health care.

But, the new BMW campaign, sandwiched between curling and skeleton, seemed to go off track. It felt more like a brand manifesto statement than anything else. Here’s an excerpt:

“Joy is why we built this company.

Joy is our inspiration.

It is efficient and dynamic, responsive and responsible.

At BMW, we don’t just make cars. We make Joy.”

Huh?

A decade ago, Apple showed everyone how this kind of “what we stand for” campaign is done with their “Think Different” campaign, kicking it off by aligning their brand with iconic thinkers of the 20th century from Ghandi to Einstein. Followed up by some brilliant products and marketing, it’s not surprising Apple just reported their highest ever sales and profits.

BMW’s attempt feels flat-footed in comparison. For starters, “Joy” is just not a word we use everyday; it crops up in classic symphonies and Christmas carols, at weddings and births and in O magazine. Joy is a rare word and hefty emotion tied to important life events and spiritual feelings.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, happiness is based on luck or good fortune, while joy is described as a vivid emotion of pleasure. Happiness depends on circumstance; joy, on our emotional well-being. So, while it may be perfectly acceptable for Coke to promise happiness for a dollar or two, it feels a bit tacky to suggest joy has a material price (made even worse in these recessionary times that the price is thirty to fifty thou and up).

BMW also seems to be coming late to the party. Just last year, the Pepsi “JOY” campaign wallpapered the New York City subways around the last Presidential inauguration (a joyful event in my book), and a couple of years before that, Britney was singing:

“The world goes round and round

But some things never change

Ba pa pa pa ba pa pa pa

The joy of pepsi (yea)”

Before Britney, Sony was trying to own joy with its soulful “Dreams” campaign in the early 2000’s and P&G has been selling Joy for dishes for fifty years. Given the terrific marketers at Sony, Pepsi and P&G all saw the potential of joy, it’s understandable that BMW also concluded that it’s a big idea “if only we can make it ours.”

There’s a big leap, however, from being the company that has prided itself on engineering perfection (aka: The Ultimate Driving Machine) and the superior status BMW owners feel as a result to delivering joy. Where Apple had always been seen as a brand that did things differently, BMW comes across as inauthentic to claim that their teutonic ambition has always been to provide “joy” rather than driving performance. Perhaps they could get there gradually over time, but to my ear it lacks plausibility.

My last quibble is that the campaign lacks cleverness. One of my favorite clients, Cindy Alston, who ran the Gatorade business for years, had a saying for this: “Your strategy is showing,” (accompanied by a big smile on her face). When the consumer takeaway is too painfully obvious, it becomes condescending. Give your customers credit for brain cells or they’re unlikely to give your brand credit either.

A few years ago BMW spent their marketing budget on stellar movie shorts with a handful of the world’s top directors. That was exciting and enervating, internet-literate and darned clever. It felt completely aligned with their promise of performance and completely original. And Mini (same company right?) has brilliantly tapped into the joy of driving with “Let’s Motor” and nailed the times when they said, “Small is the new Big.”

The New York Times best seller list is chock full of happiness advice these days, prompting a reporter to say, “Spring lists are teeming with beaming.”

Which tells us that there’s a lot more happiness and joy likely to come our way in advertising as well. I don’t have a problem with that, but may I request that marketers give us ads that are charmingly original, true to their brand’s soul, and just as clever as the people they want to buy their product.