FEATURE20 November 2013

Understanding the human animal

Humans – and their pursuit of happiness – were the focus of attention at a seminar at London Zoo this morning.


Epicurus was an Ancient Greek philosopher who put forward the view that minimising harm to oneself and others was a sure way to maximise happiness.

He was right, of course. But attaining complete happiness is a bit more complex than that.

“There’s a whole set of things that can contribute to happiness,” says Pete Comley, the founder of Join The Dots.

Speaking at a seminar this morning – called ‘Understanding the Human Animal’ and hosted at London Zoo – Comley outlined five key areas that aid human happiness:

  • Karma – approaching life’s challenges with positivity
  • Focus – being in tune and aware of what is going on around us
  • Success – setting goals, big or small, and achieving them
  • Relationships – having people to support and who can support us
  • World – active participation in social and community life

Comley believes that people strive for happiness. He says they will actively seek out brands that can make them happier.

But there are many different ways for brands and people to achieve happiness, depending on which of the five happiness drivers are in play.

Kelly McKnight is customer intelligence director for Join The Dots. Her job is to track and collate current consumer trends, of which she’s identified 15 – all of which link back to happiness in one way or another.

Indeed, the company defines trends as “a result of our desire to satisfy basic human drivers… in particular, the need to increase happiness”.

At the seminar, McKnight outlined five of those trends (each relating to a different happiness driver), as well as highlighting examples of how brands are tapping in to these consumer desires.

Trend 1: Give Me Hope (Karma)

This is a trend coming off the back of a long period of austerity and recession, according to McKnight. Early on in the recession there was almost a “Blitz spirit” towards impending hardship, with people readily buying into concepts like credit-crunch lunches. “But people have grown sick of doom and gloom,” McKnight says. People are looking to brands to offer them a glimmer of hope, joy and excitement.

On trend: O2’s Be More Dog

Trend 2: Here and Now (Focus)

People love being connected, says McKnight. “We’re online a lot of the time. But, at the same time, we feel it might be a bit bad for us.” There’s some truth in that. Psychologists have identified a disorder called FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, in which sufferers are constantly checking their social networks to make sure people aren’t having more fun than they are. In response, McKnight says, “We’re starting to see consumers looking for some downtime.”

On trend: Twinings’ Gets You Back to You

Trend 3: Making a Mark (Success)

“People seem to be more creative at the moment,” says McKnight. “And people want to share their creative output. Pinterest, Instagram, The Great British Bake-off – they are all ways in which people can share their work with others.

“So there are opportunities for brands to help people be creative and to celebrate their creativity.”

On trend: French Connection’s Make A Scene

Trend 4: True Selves (Relationships)

“As humans, we strive for perfection. Fashion, beauty and fitness markets are all based on that idea,” says McKnight. But at the same time, people are coming to terms with the fact that perfection can never be achieved, and that we should be more willing to embrace who we truly are.

On trend: Fiat’s Welcome to the Motherhood

Trend 5: Do the Right Thing (World)

“We see a disconnect here between aspiration and reality,” says McKnight. People want to be ethical and environmentally-minded in what they buy; they say companies should behave in an ethical way. But firms that aren’t always the most ethical can easily rise to the top of the brand rankings.

“Most consumers consider ethics as a ‘nice to have’,” says McKnight. They want to be ethical, but there’s still a sense of ‘What’s in it for me?’.

Toms, the footwear company, is an example of how companies can play to this trend. Every time someone buys a pair of shoes from Toms, it donates a pair to a child in the developing world.

On trend: Toms’ One for One