For Coke, Happiness Now Comes in XXL

In their book, “How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y“, Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer maintain that ‘happiness seems to be the emotion that has the largest impact on brand leverage” for Gen Y. Make them feel happy, and they will feel more emotional attachment to your brand.

“When we analyzed over 5,000 stories about favoroutie Gen Y brand, 72 percent contained positive emotions such as happiness, surprise, ecitement, peacefullness, etc. Compare that figure to the poor 29 per cent of stories that referred to functional product characteristics, and you’ll understand our point.”

Upon reflection, this isn’t all that profound. Every parent of a teen knows they like you more when you are doing something that makes them happy (a trip to Europe) and less when you are in ‘parental’ mode (insisting on doing chores). But in the brand world, what does it take to make them happy?

What Makes Gen Y “Happy”?

Two factors seem to be key to evoking feelings of happiness for youth brands: 1) touching the heart and 2) surprise. No brand lately seems to have done a better job of pushing both those buttons than Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign.  While it might appear to be a gratuitous attempt to win over the famously optimistic Millennial generation, Coke insists that

…’the brand has always been grounded in the core value of optimism and positive thinking in its history of 125 years.” — Derk Hendriksen, senior global brand director Coke Zero and Light

In other words, “Open Happiness” is just the latest expression of its enduring identity as the icon brand of eternal happiness, even if Coke has never explicitly used the word in past campaigns.


For me, the campaign elements that do the best job of embodying positive emotions and surprise are Coke’s viral videos. In 2009 it taped students’ response to a vending machine at St Johns University in Queens New York during exam season. The “Happiness Machine” unexpectedly dispensed more than free soft drinks to unsuspecting students — it also dispensed flowers, a pizza, and more. The video was released via a single Facebook status update and one tweet, yet hit 1 million views in its second week. I have shown this video in several of my classes at Notre  Dame and it never fails to evoke a strong positive response.

Coke Happiness Strikes Again – With a Twist

Coke appears to have struck the right note of happiness for a second time with its latest video filmed in Argentina for ‘Friendship Day’.  (Thanks, Su Han Park, for telling me about it!) This time the machine – offered two Cokes for the price of one, but it was impossible to reach the coin slot alone. You needed to enlist a friend. The spot is not only surprising, it is literally ‘uplifting’ as people come together to get their Cokes.


Touch the heart? Check. Surprising? Check. While it has only garnered a few hundred thousand views, I think the Coke brand managers must be proud of comments like this one:

watching this makes me happy and want to drink cocoacola” – danhantheman