The secrets of being a happy brand

A new study reveals the UK’s happiest brands and how they instil an emotional connection with consumers.


Cadbury is the ‘happiest’ brand in the UK, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week. The study, ‘Happy Brands’, by advertising agency Isobel in association with Cog Research, asked people to assess brands on a number of ‘happy’ criteria.

The study, which ranks Andrex second on the happiness scale, followed by Google, Fairy, Nivea, YouTube, Amazon, Mars, Walkers and Heinz, indicates that brands which display happy characteristics connect better with consumers. “Being associated with happiness helps build stronger emotional connections between consumers’ memory structures and the brand,” says Steve Hastings, planning partner and co-founder at Isobel. “A happy brand is a successful brand: it is better recalled, better liked and chosen more often.”

According to Isobel, happy brands are determined by five core characteristics: whether they are playful, happy, trustworthy, generous or optimistic. “We felt these five values explained a lot of the differences in the way that people would consider a brand to be happy or not happy,” says Hastings. “We think that brands facilitate happiness in a short-term instant gratification way but also longer-term by reinforcing a consumer’s personal identity and making them feel better about the world.”

Happiest brands UK 2

The research shows that to be in that valued top 10 of happy brands, a brand must score well on each of those five values. Andrex, for example, is ranked first for ‘generous’; fifth for ‘playful’; second for ‘happy’ and second for ‘trustworthy’, all contributing to its status as the second happiest brand overall. By contrast, Ryanair scores fourth for ‘not generous’; second for ‘pessimistic’; sixth for sad and fourth for ‘untrustworthy’, contributing to its overall ranking at 97th on the happiness scale.

When it comes to happiness, FMCG heritage brands are standout winners. They dominate the top 20: Cadbury (1); Andrex (2), Fairy (4), Nivea (5), Mars (8), Walkers (9) and Heinz (10) are followed in quick succession by Ben & Jerry’s Colgate, Häagen Dazs, PG Tips, Innocent and Kellogg’s. “People use brands as a shortcut to help with their buying decisions,” says Hastings. “These are simple, clear brands with good heritage and consistency of delivery. The benefits of having that comes through again and again.”

Coca-Cola, however, is only at number 19 despite its strapline ‘Open Happiness’. “The ‘happiness’ campaign is but one small influence on the brand – especially a brand such as Coke which has been high profile for so long, with such a history of ads that have built long-term memories,” says Hastings. Coke does well across most values but is let down on optimistic (30th) and trustworthy (43rd).

“A lovely image does not suffice for everyone,” says Hastings. “Some ‘see through’ the image and so the brand suffers on ‘happy’ ratings.”

While FMCG brands have managed to secure their place in the affections of British consumers, grocery retailers have not been so successful. Tesco (58) and Co-op (69) rank relatively low on the survey while Lidl (49), Waitrose (50) and Sainsbury’s (31) occupy the centre ground. Aldi ranks the best of the supermarkets at 21. “Waitrose was let down on the ‘generous’ measure – probably indicative of how people view its prices,” says Hastings.

“Meanwhile, Aldi, having been a UK player for a relatively short time, has benefited from being a blank canvas, unencumbered by old perceptions that other supermarkets might be.”

In the digital area, Google comes up very high (3rd), although the value of ‘trustworthy’ is slightly lower than its other scores. Google, YouTube (6th) and Amazon (7th) benefit from their clarity of delivery. These brands play a consistent role in consumers’ lives and are wholeheartedly regarded as ‘happy’.

By comparison, Twitter and Facebook score lower. “These are very public forums where anyone can vent their spleen,” explains Hastings, who believes it is this variability of the human factor that hampers these brands.

Of all the categories surveyed, the airlines show the biggest spread of results, with Ryanair near the bottom at 97th; Virgin Atlantic at 29th and BA at 60th. EasyJet, positioned at 75, looks like its strategy of having some tangible added-value is working. While British Airways is voted the UK’s most-trusted airline, Virgin Atlantic does better on the happy scale and the research attributes this to the fact that, even at 30 years old, it still feels vibrant and challenging.

The bottom of the ranking is shared by brands in the newspaper, political party and banking categories. Lloyds (94th), RBS (99th), The Conservatives (98th), The Liberal Democrats (100th), the Financial Times (88th) and the Daily Express (95th) are all positioned at the ‘unhappy’ end of the scale, and their position in the table is the result of poor scores on values such as generosity and optimism. It seems that even if a brand such as Lloyds, which began running an upbeat ad campaign last September, tries to reposition itself as a ‘better bank’, it will continue to be seen as ‘less generous’ and ‘pessimistic’.

According to the research, the way to jump up the happy rankings is not in ‘poisoning the world with message-driven advertising’ but through employing good old-fashioned charm: using a carefully tailored tone of voice and showing that the brand owner is ‘human’.

Andrex 40 years
Andrex, which ranks second happiest, has been using the happiness-evoking puppy icon for 40 years

The top 10 brands’ results show there is worth in making clear promises to customers and then keeping that word. Andrex, which guarantees ‘soft, strong and very long’, uses its long-running puppy icon to evoke emotions of happiness. It then weaves these through its marketing communications. “Advertising doesn’t necessarily solve all problems but if you have a clear promise that you consistently keep and communicate, you have a tried and tested recipe for success,” explains Hastings.

Play and pleasure are key values and the study suggests there is a benefit in getting a balance between the intrinsic, intangible promise that a brand might bring and its functionality. Consumers get enjoyment from the nature of a brand: its packaging, texture, the way it works and smells, through to the way it feels when used. “We are not saying ditch how you measure your personality and adopt this as your mantra but that it is worth looking at your brand from this point of view,” argues Hastings. “We also think there is a zeitgeist for happiness at the moment and we are all learning to value intangible values sometimes more than tangible products.”

The study clearly suggests that both emotional and rational attributes are valid ways to leave an imprint with a consumer and brands that have a measure of both prove popular with consumers.


One hundred brands were chosen from the biggest market categories and the largest brands in those categories feature in this study. Isobel identified brands that have an intrinsic happiness about them rather than those that are going through an ephemeral happy period. The resulting ranking comprises retail, FMCG, politics, newspapers, banking, airlines and digital/entertainment brands and 1,250 people were asked to rank those brands on five core characteristics: playfulness, generosity, happiness, trustworthiness and optimism.

Marketers’ response


Alex Pickering
Marketing director 

We work hard to create a richer and more meaningful relationship with our consumers, focusing on real things that make us happier, and this is translated through everything we do – from the quality reassurance of our products to our marketing activity. Our brand icon, the Andrex Puppy, is key to communicating the feeling of happiness and has been a consistent part of our advertising for over 40 years. The introduction of the puppy in the 1970s allowed us to explore happiness as a theme, through the natural qualities of puppies at that young age. Always shown as a playful, energetic and loveable character, the puppy provokes positive emotions and make consumers smile, in turn helping to convey the attributes of our brand.


Giles Jepson
VP of marketing 
Heinz Europe and CMO UK & Ireland

We believe it is important to understand how our brand relates to consumers versus others in our categories as well as other FMCG brands outside of our categories.

Our brand measurement studies inform our strategy and communications development. This study supports our own findings that we have a strong emotional bond with our customers.

We know that the iconic Heinz brands live in the consumers’ minds and hearts. This knowledge led us to the development of the ‘It Has to be Heinz’ advertising campaign in 2010 and more recently our new ads for Soup ‘I love Winter’ and Beanz ‘Full of Beans’, which focus on reinforcing an emotional connection.