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Can Brands Speak to the Hippy in Us?

Love for life starts with a healthy relationship between body and mind. What can brands bring to the party?

Submitted by: Anna Simpson

Posted: May 28, 2014 – 09:45 AM EST

Series: The Brand Strategist's Guide to Desire

Tags: branding, marketing, zumba, parkrun, consumption, community, culture, happiness, fitness, health


By Anna Simpson

This is the fifth part in a series about how brands can help people find what they want rather than manipulate our desires to sell us their wares. In my book, The Brand Strategist's Guide to Desire, each of the five chapters explores what we look for in life from a different angle: Community, Adventure, Aesthetics, Vitality and Purpose. In my last post, I discussed the role of brands in our sensory experience of the world around us, asking how sensible they are to our aesthetics. Today I ask whether brands can help us realize our appetite for life rather than play to our insecurities.

Some brands get no closer to the exuberance of a carnival than selling colorful clothes. In many cultures, vitality is associated with color and celebrations of life involve bright paints and costumes.

Vitality: Expression through Color

In India, Hindus mark the arrival of spring and the season of birth with the Holi festival in which people throw colored powders at each other and at holy temples – huge showers of red, blue, yellow, orange and pink.

In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival attracts around five million people every year, who come to watch extravagantly decorated floats and dancers shimmy through the streets.

‘Flower power’ became the life-affirming refrain of the Hippies in the 1960s. They took the lead from the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who called on people to dressVitality and paint in vibrant colors and hand flowers to members of the public as a way of transforming anti-war protests into street theatre. In the late 1970s, love, life and color became associated with the Gay (now LGBT) Rights movement – expressed through carnivalesque Pride marches and symbols such as the Rainbow Flag.

Loving life takes more than a lick of paint, of course.

Psychologists have defined vitality as a “positive feeling of aliveness and energy [which] refers to more than just being active, aroused or even having stored calorie reserves. [Rather] it concerns a specific psychological experience of possessing enthusiasm and spirit” [R. M. Ryan, C. Frederick: On Energy, Personality and Health: Subjective vitality as a dynamic reflection of well-being, Journal of Personality 65:3 (1997) 529-565; 530]. You may have a clean bill of health as far as the doctor is concerned yet not feel the energy and enthusiasm for living.

But individual vitality can be enhanced by the exuberance of those around us. There’s no simple recipe for it but ingredients include friendly people, lively music and space to let your hair down.

Brand Messaging: Communicating Vitality

Many brands that offer products and services for health and wellbeing – from whole foods to fitness classes – fail to bring these three ingredients together. Unilever identifies vitality as a goal, aiming “to meet everyday needs for nutrition, home hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.”

A blurb on the website explains how particular brands do this:

‘Flora helps keep hearts healthy, a cup of PG Tips refreshes you, Magnum gives you an indulging treat….’

However, while each brand arguably contributes something toward helping a person feel or look good (and these are not the same), they limit their proposition to one aspect of a person’s wellbeing—and are unlikely to result in any real joie de vivre.

But more brands are starting to speak to the hippy in us (and not just the poser), and reaping rewards.

Parkrun: Aligning Health and Culture

Some do it simply by association: sponsoring a sporting event, for example. This has been the lifeblood of Parkrun, a syndicate of free running clubs open to everyone and funded through partnership and advertising. It encourages people to participate in a weekly five-kilometer run in their local park and offers resources to help them get started, from water to warm-up exercises.

Parkrun started in the U.K. and is now operating in Australia, Denmark, Poland, South Africa and the U.S. Its sponsorship scheme has attracted major sports brands such as adidas, offering them a direct way to engage with the people they want to reach. The strength of Parkrunparkrun is that it combines a way to improve your physical health with access to community culture.

But brand association is a baby step toward a real offer of vitality.

Zumba: Dancing for Happiness

For more of a leap, take Zumba Fitness, which claims to reach 14 million people in 151 countries. It’s a basically a fitness class, but with the emphasis more on fun than on fitness and on the music than your muscles. Like the Samba Schools of Brazil, it offers an inclusive, community-based party, with a variety of classes appealing a much wider audience than outgoing types with tanned and toned bodies. At one end of the scale there’s Zumbini, which is designed to offer a bonding experience for parents and their up to three-year-olds, in which they ‘wiggle, sing and learn together.’

And at the other, there’s Zumba Gold, which offers ‘modified, low impact moves for older adults’ who want to stay active without putting too much pressure on tired joints or straining their hearts.

But Zumba’s success is also down to its human side.

It gets right into communities through the dance instructors who bring their own moves to the floor. Apparently it all started when an aerobics teacher in Colombia turned up for class without the set tunes so put on the music he actually listened to instead. It turns out he wasn’t the only one who likes a party.

If you’d like to win a copy of The Brand Strategist's Guide to Desire (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), write to us on Twitter @CSRwire or on Facebook describing how a brand has helped you find something you desire. Make sure to include #BrandDesire in your tweets or Facebook post.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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