QOTW: Joyconomy

Question Of The Week

The Joyconomy: Should Brands Be Unleashing Playfulness and Joy?

Joy and play are setting the tone for our era. Customers are seeking escapism from everyday scuffles, how are brands embracing the opportunity?

By Avnie Bansal

Joy in the face of continued hardship. According to Wunderman Thompson's recent study titled Age of Re-enchantment: a joyconomy is in motion this year, with brands offering bold colour pallets, positive channels for connectivity, uninhibited play for all ages, and exercise classes that elevate moods and heart rates in one celebratory leap.

The study concludes that consumers, gritted down by hustle culture, 21st-century horrors of politics, war, and climate crisis, are now looking to brands to provide them escapism and reprieve from their everyday life. Meanwhile, an ongoing study from Leo Burnett called PopPulse notes that people are so fed up with worrying about cost-of-living crisis that they are grateful when they don’t have to think about it. It's also true, according to the Leo Burnett research, that when life is tough people are not in the business of taking empty empathy. They want action rather than just "superficial virtue signalling."

So, do brands have an appetite to deliver the joyconomy? How exactly should they go about it? Should brand campaigns focus on eliciting emotions rather than providing actual value? Or should consumers reduce their expectations from brands and look for entertainment where it belongs -in pop culture? We asked industry experts.

Jess Hilty, Strategist, Wunderman Thompson

Purpose and its role for brands has dominated discussions amongst marketers – and is still a question we are approached about regularly by clients. The joyconomy, then, feels like an exciting and timely opportunity brands should be jumping to embrace. At a time where consumers are reminded daily what’s wrong in the world – from cost of living to the climate crisis – for brands to offer moments of joy, entertainment and escapism is a chance for them to create deeper emotional resonance with their audiences. Eliciting emotion shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to providing actual value – but as a means of delivering it; we know emotion has been proven time and again to drive campaign effectiveness.

How they should go about it? By celebrating or creating moments of joy in genuine and authentic ways – and wherever possible, maintaining an air of light-heartedness. Fiat dunking its CEO in a vat of orange paint to shake up the dull grey car category, or McDonalds celebrating the moment of light relief when your co-worker raises their eyebrows to suggest a break are just some examples of brands getting the tone spot on. And there are opportunities to tackle the bigger issues too – joy and hope as acts of resistance are increasingly feeding into the climate conversation, and creating a sense of optimism (as long as it’s not misleading) can be an incredibly effective way of driving engagement and action.

Josh Bullmore, Chief Strategy Officer, Leo Burnett

Here at Leo Burnett, we’ve been conducting the latest wave of our ongoing PopPulse research with people up and down the country over the last few weeks.

We’ve certainly heard that life is tough, and that people are facing tough struggles everyday.

But while the media paint a distopian view of a world of hopelessness, what we heard is that yes people are struggling, but they are also appreciative of anything that can bring some light relief. While it’s often of course friends, family, and pop culture, they are open to brands and advertising too.

There’s a watch out here - people are suspicious of brands who are offering to help in ways that feel like superficial virtue signalling. People don’t want empty empathy, they don’t want brands turning up with bleeding hearts, saying that they get how hard things are and that they are non-specifically “here for you”. They want action.

And one of the most valuable ways a brand can help right now is to raise a smile, to create a moment of escapist entertainment. So now is not the time for brands to play it safe, to be sombre and respectful in the face of life’s challenges, as if they are attending a wake. It’s for brands to be joyously, escapistly their best and most entertaining selves, like the most captivating guest at a party.

Gen Kobayashi, Chief Strategy Officer UK & EMEA, Weber Shandwick

I think “escape” is the operative word here. History tells us that in times of hardship, human beings tend to look to the arts for escape from the difficulty that surrounds them. This is evident in that cinema box office takings have consistently remained resilient during recessionary periods. According to Variety Magazine, during the last eight recessions box office has increased sixfold and admissions have risen fivefold. And it’s not just our appetite for escapism that changes in times of hardship but our tastes become more extreme too.

For example, one of the unexpected by-products of the Pandemic was the rise in horror movies and content. One group of researchers have analysed this rise in demand for horror and their findings point to very real psychological effects from horror films that help people cope better with difficulty in the real world. The research showed how people who viewed horror content during the pandemic reported feeling less anxious about the world around them compared to people who didn’t view this content. This may point towards the rise in occultism and dark tourism.

It’s also the reason why my agency, Weber Shandwick, created ‘Spellbound’, an immersive audio experience for Visit Sweden.

Working with acclaimed horror writer John Ajivide Linquist we tempted tourists into a geo-locked immersive experience that could only be heard in the depths of the Swedish forest. Whilst we may not be ‘artists’, we are ‘commercial artists’ and I think there’s a lesson here for brands, in times of hardship that sometimes the most value you can offer people is a form of escape through commercial artform

Mark Sng, Partner and CSO, Pablo

I do think we have a tendency to overcomplicate things. We have to make people notice us and remember us. The rest is of far less importance. And if we want people to notice and remember us, we’ll always have better success through the avenue of the heart. What was it Maya Angelou said? “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. The tricky thing is that in trying to achieve a depth of experience, the temptation could be to create something amazing for the few, whilst failing to achieve the reach necessary to drive real results. How do we ensure these memorable experiences get shared and talked about by as many potential customers as possible?

Clare Hutchinson, Chief Strategy Officer, VCCP

‘Surprising and delighting’ is a creative imperative when it comes to connecting with consumers. But there’s an important watch out… Whatever you do, always be authentic to the brand. Be relevant as well as resonant. Cadbury’s ‘Joy’ platform was designed to simulate the sensorial pleasures of chocolate. But it was totally at odds with how people felt about the brand. The Cadbury that people loved wasn’t bombastic and hyperbolic, it was real, human, warm and authentic. Generosity, not Joyville. So sometimes telling small, quiet, real stories, with big emotional impact can be more powerful than fireworks, fantasy and dry ice.

Will Hodge, Co-chief, Accenture Song, Creative Business, UK

Nothing packs a punch like the persuasive power of emotion. It’s no wonder people are asking for more from brands – if the last 3 years have taught us anything it’s what makes us feel alive matters most. Even if our senses are now dulled by the oversupply of content, our attention spans are spread thinly across multiple platforms – this research should serve as a warning sign – focus less on the message and the means, it’s the emotion our work elicits that matters most. Let a little more life into your brand to be felt not forgotten.


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