Your Brain Has Been Branded

Tom Jacobs explains a recent study that suggests big brand names neurologically “override” consumers’ usual patterns of judgment:

The researchers describe an experiment featuring 15 people ranging in age from 23 to 50. While their brains were scanned using fMRI technology, they were given a series of small drinks of cola. After each swallow, they rated how pleasurable it tasted on a scale of one to eight. They were told they were sampling Coke, Pepsi, River Cola (a generic brand sold in Germany), and a new drink created in a test laboratory, which was labeled T-Cola. In fact, they always received the same mixture of the first three brands. Participants rated the “Coke” and “Pepsi” samples as tastier than either the generic or the test brand. “We did not find a significant difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola preference,” the researchers write.

Relatedly, Planet Money describes Coke’s new ad campaign in Burma, where, until recently, sanctions prevented Coke from selling its products. One of the strategies being used to sell “Coke to people who may not remember what it tastes like”:

[Shakir Moin, the head of marketing for Coke in Southeast Asia,] says he started to go back in the Coca-Cola archives. He was looking at how the company marketed its product before the internet, before TV, even before radio. Eventually he found his perfect model for Myanmar, place where nobody knew anything about Coke — Atlanta, 1886.

Back then the hot advertising trend was wall posters. Moin noticed that in the beginning, Coke didn’t use the posters to talk about friends or happiness or style. It talked about what the product tasted like. It simply described it. Moin pulled out two words in particular that would form the core of his Myanmar campaign — “delicious, refreshing.”

Those two words from the 1800s are now on the Myanmar bottle, and on the billboards and fliers that advertise the product.