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Why Branding Matters

An interesting note from consultant Doug Erickson:

Dr. Reed Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor Medical School, wondered about “The Pepsi Challenge.” Do you remember those commercials from the 70’s and 80’s that pitted Coke against Pepsi? Pepsi was usually the winner, and Montague wondered why Coke sold more if it didn’t taste any better.

Montague re-created “The Pepsi Challenge” while monitoring the brain activity of the participants. He, too, found that in blind taste tests Pepsi was preferred. On examining the brain scans, he found that the people who chose Pepsi had a stronger response in an area of the brain called the ventral putamen. Deep in the brain, the putamen triggers our feelings of reward.

Montague then repeated the test, but this time he told the subjects which of the sample tastes were Coke. The outcome was remarkable — almost all of the subjects said they preferred Coke. Their brain scans lit up a different area, not the ventral putamen, but the prefrontal cortex. That’s the area of the brain that controls our high-level cognitive powers. When participants were told which drink was which, they were thinking in a different way about the taste of Coke. Now the drink was associated with places and memories they had about Coke. Branding is about getting people to associate what is being sold with pleasant memories and the associations.

In other words, it was the brand, the image, that was more important than the taste.

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