Keep smiling and carry on in a crisis: the design codes of happiness

Within the pits of fear and abyss of boredom, YouGov’s mood tracker finds that Britons are finally rediscovering happiness, although nowhere close to pre Covid-19 levels. On the shelf, from the start, we saw the brands presenting the codes of Protection, Comfort and Escape succeeding commercially and meeting our needs. However, many brands offering “happiness”, such as Coca Cola, rightly put a stop to “happy” comms as it just didn’t feel appropriate.

Happiness covers a broad spectrum of emotions from hope, positivity, delight and fun to joy and celebration. It’s about looking up and feeling good, and we search for the codes of happiness as if they were mood enhancers giving us a little serotonin high. Semiotically in this happy world we see a tonne of illustration, bright colours, bold vibrancy, cheery fonts, playful shapes, feel good messages and humour.

Overall the winning symbol we turned to for a sliver of joy through the angst was the universal code for hope – the rainbow. Immediately, we saw the NHS take it on representing a positive future with happier times to come. Quickly Iceland launched a rainbow ice cream donating 50p from each tub, split equally between NHS Charities Together and Teenage Cancer Trust. Asda made rainbow pizzas and M&S launched a rainbow bag for life with 100% of profits going to charity also. And let’s not forget Skittles in the mix with their key brand asset successfully tapping into this spirit as well as celebratory Pride insignia. Beyond an actual rainbow – brands with bright coloured ranges stand out and we see a lot of it in the breakfast aisle with the extroverted Kelloggs cereals waking us up with a smile on our faces. Tony’s Chocoloney also wins thankfully avoiding the trap of a too-serious purpose driven brand.

Yellow is a short cut to positivity no matter where you are in the world. It’s literally the colour of sunshine, that nurturing eternal source of energy and light. Reaping the rewards of this clear association is Lipton with their equity of the sun, “refreshing your everyday” through product and vibe. Lipton also launched a rainbow range of make at home iced teas in UK in June. Other happy yellow brands we see doing well in the Crisis include Hippeas, Happy Eggs, leading record sales in eggs, and Old El Paso, tapping into DIY meal making while we’re stuck at home. Think also the sunshine beers like Sol. 

Another major semiotic territory in Happiness is humour. Tyrells vintage style pics make us smile with their quirky wit and the quintessentially British tagline Tyrrellbly, Tyrrellbly, Tasty! Rude Health offers us a literal broad smile we can’t help but mirror in a sea of bright colour and children’s brands such as Ella’s Kitchen make us feel reassuringly bouncy and cheerful with higgledy type and naïve joie de vivre to feed the kids. Ben & Jerry’s is an obvious one relying on fun illustrations but also hilarious copy and brilliant naming. While reports tell us ice cream sales were significantly dented – Ben and Jerry’s did manage to launch a coronavirus-inspired variant called Chip Happens; a chocolate ice cream with fudge chips and crunchy potato chips. Inspired by Netflix Nailed It show. Lol.

Happy doesn’t always have to be playful or extrovert – it can be stylish. The gorgeous new Leon range and display stands out like a beacon of hope radiating rays of light as if telling us to stop looking down and sorry for ourselves and simply look up and enjoy the dawn of a new day. 

While Happiness has suffered during this time, the mood is shifting. As Summer coincides with being allowed out and about to celebrate with friends and family, we’re feeling less afraid and slightly more optimistic. From bright colours, sunshine yellow, silly, quirky imagery, witty copy, and rainbows galore, Happiness is coming. And frankly, it can’t come soon enough.

Take a look at your brand and ask yourself if its visual codes and equities are resonating with a clear emotional consumer need? If things aren’t working as they should be, then your challenge sounds familiar to us. And we can help.

Nick Tobias, Creative Director & Susie Meggitt, Creative Strategist