Can Marketing Really Change Our Preferences? The case of Pepsi vs. Coca Cola

A few years ago, the company PepsiCo, Manufacturer and bottler of beverages Pepsi, Launch of a very special advertising campaign on the market. It was known around the world as the “Pepsi Challenge” and was essentially a social experiment that sought to prove that the general public preferred the taste of Pepsi for which Coca Cola, Which was, and still is, the main competing brand today.

Tasting tables were set up in public places in many cities around the world where people could try both sodas, in a procedure called “blind tasting”. In other words, participants took a sip of one of the drinks, then took a sip of the other, then had to determine their preference, indicating which of the two they liked the most.

As the company expected, most people said they liked Pepsi better.. Of course, the company ensured that these results were disclosed and brought to the attention of the last confinement of the planet.

Effective Marketing: The Coca-Cola Reaction

Coca-Cola’s response was quick to arrive. First they raised their voices to the sky, then they decided to replicate the ad campaign, but this time, obviously, on the basis of the opposite principle.

And indeed, what they observed is that most people, when choosing, leaned towards Coca-Cola.

The contradiction in the contrast of the data quickly became evident. Either members of Pepsi’s research and marketing department had twisted the data and were lying, or the people at Coca-Cola were doing it. The two companies couldn’t be right.

An independent investigation into Pepsi and Coca-Cola

It seems the mystery has come to the ears of a group of drink-loving scientists, who, moved by curiosity, set out to do their own research. They were determined to find out which of the two brands had the public’s preference..

But they introduced a variation in the process. This time, while the participants were drinking the soda, their brains were to be monitored using working MRI technology.

What is functional MRI?

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI for short) is a device-based tool that allows scientists to observe, live and lead, which group of neurons is activated in the brain of a person who stays asking me to do an activity; in this particular case, savor the dark and drink the bubbles.

To do this, the person must be inserted, horizontally, in a resonator. Her head is attached with a harness, as it needs to be moved so that brain activity can be monitored.

This is possible because this type of technology makes it possible to measure the metabolism of the nerve cells that shape the various structures that make up the brain. When an increased blood supply and increased oxygen uptake are detected, it is inferred that neurons are functioning and doing their job.

How did the soda reach the participant’s mouth under such uncomfortable experimental conditions? Simple: thanks to a pipe that allowed the drink to travel from afar.

The power of the Coca-Cola brand on our brains

And here is the really amazing.

Researchers found that when people drank Pepsi and when they tried Coke, in their brains, what was commonly called the “pleasure circuit” was implemented.. It refers to certain areas of the brain, which are responsible for the pleasure we experience when we are exposed to circumstances that please us. You can try to drink soda, as in this case, but also in experiences of a very varied nature, such as having sex, watching our favorite TV series, reading a book that we are passionate about, eating churros stuffed with sweet milk, or smoke marijuana.

But the funny thing is, when the people involved in the experiment were told what brand of soda they were drinking, something else was going on, another region of the brain was activated.

This time it was a very different structure from the previous one, called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and it is located approximately behind each of the temples of the human skull.

What is the function of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex?

Well, this part of the brain is considered to be the anatomical basis for various higher order mental processes unique to humans, including concept formation and the organization and regulation of intellectual functions.

Simplify a little, when participants drank soda without knowing the brand, the brain pleasure circuit was turned on., Driven by the pleasant sensation of the taste buds.

But when the brand of the drink was informed, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex also became inflamed. In other words, the area of ​​the brain where brand awareness and appreciation is found has been further activated.

And here is a detail that is no less. Dorsolateral neurons were much more strained when people drank Coca-Cola than when they drank Pepsi. The resonator monitors showed much more intense activity when participants realized that the selection they were savoring was number one in the world.

And it turns out that, precisely, the only procedural difference between the two original advertising campaigns was that the inhabitants of Coca-Cola communicated to those who approached to drink at their tasting sites what you once had contained and a soda. In addition, the containers were marked with their respective logos.

In contrast, in the “Pepsi Challenge,” participants made value judgments based solely on the taste of the drinks they were enjoying, as they weren’t sure which was which. In this case, the choice is strictly based on the degree of sensory satisfaction experienced by the person.

When marketing trumps taste

Where does all this lead us? First, for most people, everything seems to indicate that Pepsi is tastier than Coca-Cola.

Second, when people know what they are drinking, they prefer Coca-Cola, and that choice is driven primarily by the power of the brand.

It sounds amazing, however a simple brand can have enough weight to impose itself on its own sensory pleasure that we feel when we consume a product. A simple brand can gain pleasure based on the senses, twisting our decisions and leading us to opt for an alternative that gives us less pleasure than another.

When the participants in the experiment expected to drink Coca-Cola, this soda seemed tastier to them than that of the competition. In contrast, when they didn’t have the expectation of drinking Coca-Cola, the floor was flattened for real, clean, unconditioned sensory pleasure based purely on taste, and here Pepsi clearly won. Unbelievable.

All brands are valuable to us. And this value occupies a place in our brain. Marketing companies have known this for a long time. Its job is precisely to create all the added value possible through the brand, which leads the product to a privileged position in the mind of the consumer. The instrument used for this purpose is the incessant bombardment of advertising by all possible media. Something that Coca-Cola knows and does very well.

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