(Your) Pursuit of (My) Happiness
In the early 1980s, before food processors from many manufacturers became as common on countertops as they are today, the Cuisinart brand dominated. For a time, even, the brand reached that promised land (occupied by Kleenex and Band-Aid and Q-Tips) where a brand name is, in the mind of the consumer, synonymous with the product itself. When someone referred to “a Cuisinart,’ you knew what he meant.
As the category expanded with the arrival of copycat others, a feature-set emerged by which consumers came to differentiate these machines: What’s the motor horsepower and how many speeds can you select? What’s the bowl capacity? Is there a “pulse” button? How many blades do I get? And on and on. Certainly, the purchase of a food processor is a feature-driven purchase. And yet, leafing through a Gourmet magazine from 1983 (perusing these old periodicals being a hobby of mine), I came across a Cuisinart ad with this line:
“We want you to always be happy you bought a Cuisinart.” They explained how they would walk-the-walk with a detailed description of their happiness squad: what kinds of questions they would answer (any kind!), how and when to reach them & etc.
That wouldn’t make it very far as a modern ‘value proposition’. Today we’d be looking for something more like “cuts kitchen prep time by 30%.” “Offers 5 times the slice-thickness options of other machines.” Cuisinart, though (at least in this ad) wants me to always be happy. So simple and so incredibly powerful: what puts a potential customer more at ease than an assurance the vendor is really-and-truly dedicated to his happiness?
Maybe we’re more cynical now. Maybe back in those optimistic Reagan years we were still ready to believe. Maybe now we look for a more tangible assurance like the “money back if not completely satisfied” guarantee (and what a cold, sad, crass replacement this is for the happiness promise: if our widget is defective, send it back to us and we’ll send you money).
Does it have to be that way? Could a company in this ‘woke’ age pass the smell test with an assurance of dedication to a customer’s happiness? The core of it is that you’re not just buying a widget, you’re buying us and from now on we take your satisfaction as our obligation. This kind of pitch can still be found- sort of- in the financial services business, where ads unfailingly depict frank conversations between investors and their longtime Trusted Advisors (no promise of happiness, but at least an insinuation of we’ve-got-your-back).
Some others come close: Celebrity Cruise Line depicted just-disembarked guests who raved that their every preference was seen to by the ship’s crew. But cruising is a service-touch-points business, and Celebrity’s promise was merely a more human version of “5 times the slice-thickness options.” Perhaps the closest I’ve recently seen is Hilton Hotels’ “Making you happy makes us happy.” But this, while perhaps appealing to our culture’s current obsession with egalitarianism, turns the whole thing into a mutual-aid pact. “We’ll make you happy whether it makes us happy or not,” I suggest, would telegraph a deeper dedication to guest satisfaction.
Possibly companies are afraid of the happiness pledge- too many unknowns, too much potential cost to fulfil it. But Cuisinart never promised they would spare no expense to make its customers happy; they said they would employ a finite group of people to attend to it. I suggest, in these rancorous, jaded times when everything seems to have been reduced to commodity status, that consumers are more than ready to hear assurances of good ol’ felicity. Providers of all kinds of products and services should again embrace the happiness pledge.
I’ll assume your widget will work as intended (under the law, this is referred to as “the implied warranty of merchantability”). What will really attract me to you is my belief (because you stated it earnestly, and perhaps told me how you plan to do it) that you want me to be happy- whatever it is- that I bought it.
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Gotta say that I really enjoyed your op-ed piece in today’s BDN! Imagine trying to read it on Maine AIRS through a mask (anf nowf, thith thory from the Opinion pafe of Bangorf Daily Newf.
(sound of heavy breathing)