Visiting scholar conducts positive communication research
José Antonio Muñiz-Velázquez was working at an advertising agency in Spain when he read “99 Francs,” a novel by French author Frédéric Beigbeder. The author, Muñiz-Velázquez said, insisted that advertisers don’t want people to be happy – because happy people don’t buy products.
That concept bothered Muñiz-Velázquez, who is now the head of the department of communication and education at Loyola University Andalucia in Spain, and a visiting scholar at Loyola University Chicago.
Muñiz-Velázquez wanted people to be happy.
So he left the agency and began researching positive communication, a field where his backgrounds in psychology and communication intersected. He found a community of scholars absorbed in the topic.
“When we say ‘positive storytelling,’ positive communication, we mean that this persuasion is for the well-being of everybody: for the well-being of the people you want to persuade and also the individual that persuades – the brand,” he explained.
Now, Muñiz-Velázquez said he’s collaborating with around 75 researchers from universities all over the world – including Quinlan marketing professor Linda Tuncay Zayer – to write a handbook on positive communication.
Called “The Routledge Handbook of Positive Communication,” it will cover five areas of positive communication research: advertising, marketing and public relations; journalism and media; interpersonal communication; education; and technology. He and his colleagues aim to complete the handbook by the end of this year and present their findings at the conference of positive communication in 2018, he said.
Muñiz-Velázquez’s research deals with two levels of happiness: hedonia and eudaimonia. He said hedonia essentially means to feel positive emotions – ‘happiness’ in the popular sense – while eudaimonia takes that feeling to a deeper level.
Eudaimonia means living virtuously – becoming happy rather than experiencing fleeting satisfaction – and is the focus of positive communication, according to Muñiz-Velázquez. He said it’s a concept that was explored by the ancient philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Seneca and Socrates, but now, two thousand years later, we have the science to back it up
“The question we can ask to all kinds of communication is the following: ‘To what extent are you helping the people to be more happy in terms of virtue?’ he said.
Muñiz-Velázquez conceded that, in the past, we might have seen advertising with more “selfish” values. But beginning about 10 years ago, he said, there was a paradigm shift – one exemplified in Dove’s esteem-boosting advertisements and in recent Super Bowl commercials, such as Airbnb’s “We Accept” segment.
“[Now,] we are watching another kind of advertising that also, of course, needs to sell products, but it’s not the same,” he said. “The Airbnb [commercial], for example, … we can say this is positive advertising in terms that it is selling Airbnb, but also with positive value – the knowledge of different people [mixing with] other cultures.”
The researcher found that commercials aren’t the only aspect of Super Bowl games with the potential to be positive; he discovered in his research that fan culture itself generates a feeling of belonging and is connected to intellectual development.
The happiness derived from actively participating in a fan community could be explained by additional research Muñiz-Velázquez conducted, which found that people who valued experiences over material objects tended to be happier, while materialistic individuals were more vulnerable to depression.
“Experiences bring more happiness than objects or material goods,” he said. “We saw the clear statistical difference [in happiness] between the people that prefer material goods and the people that prefer experiences.”
For companies, creating uplifting discourse alone isn’t enough to create authentic happiness, according to Muñiz-Velázquez, who said brands should also live out the values they promote.
“Positive communication is not only to seem. It’s also to do. It’s also to be,” he said.
The scholar applies that principle to his own life. For holidays and birthdays, Muñiz-Velázquez and his wife exchange experiences instead of material goods. This past Christmas, he paid for her to take a cooking class, and for him, she purchased tickets to events around Chicago, where he’ll be conducting research through the end of March.
In the coming weeks, Muñiz-Velázquez plans to be a guest speaker in classes, and hold a seminar on positive communication for faculty at Loyola Chicago.
In the years since Beigbeder’s “99 Francs” altered the course of his life, Muñiz-Velázquez has opened his second advertising agency in Spain and compiled research that counters the French author’s pessimistic outlook.
Advertisers do, Muñiz-Velázquez maintains, want happy people.
“If Aristotle said the ultimate aim of the life is happiness for all individuals, also for communication, in all of the fields, the ultimate aim must always be happiness,” he said. “Because it’s good for the self, for the brands … the mission of communication must be the happiness of people.”