Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Pepsi Paradox
February 3, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

How the Brain Reveals Why We Buy. "Most of us know that branding palpably influences our choices and shopping habits, but researchers suspect that branding can also fundamentally change the way we comprehend sense impressions. At least that is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the only (so far) classic study in neuromarketing, a fascinating study of what can be called the Pepsi paradox. "

The Paradox part is on page 2.
posted by marienbad (23 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
[Via]
posted by marienbad at 8:37 AM on February 3, 2012


Pepsi Blue

;-)
posted by Fizz at 8:37 AM on February 3, 2012


Huh, I definitely prefer the taste of Coke to Pepsi, but now I want to do a blind taste test to make sure my brain isn't tricking me. But if it is, should I stick with Coke even though I prefer the taste of Pepsi, because I think I prefer Coke?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:42 AM on February 3, 2012


RC FTW.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:46 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Executive summary: Branding works.
posted by Outlawyr at 8:47 AM on February 3, 2012


Reading that, I wonder what my brain would look like when I taste either one. Because my conscious reaction is as if I'd just taken a swig of hemlock.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:57 AM on February 3, 2012


Subsequently
posted by DU at 9:09 AM on February 3, 2012


There is imho one major reason that European food tastes so much better than American and British, namely that branding for quality foodstuffs is operated by independent regional bodies, not the actual producers.

Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC)* and similar aren't necessarily so much about the land itself as about "branding in the public interest" within a particular tradition.

In fact, you witness philosophically similar effects in Italian fashion where the designer's brand actually doesn't make the clothes themselves, but selects the highest quality output from various factories around Italy, with the losing factories selling virtually identical clothing as knockoffs.

America's branding strategies are extremely effective at maximizing the profits and sales figures, but demonstrably worse than independent branding at delivering value, safety, etc.

* Americans are quite proud of their wines frequently beating European wines, but imho American achieved this by relentlessly focussing on "average" tastes, while the French AOCs, etc. produce a much broader array of flavors. Americans simply don't produce anything like the Vin jaune from Jura or the Amarone from Verona, Italy.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:19 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I only drink Pepsi because they offer Pepsi Throwback and it tastes like Pepsi from home.

HFCS flavoured soft drink tastes weird. It tastes like someone mixed it with breakfast syrup.
posted by Talez at 9:29 AM on February 3, 2012


HFCS flavoured soft drink tastes weird

It's very, very hard to set up a good blind taste test to settle that question. Quite a number of people have run blind taste tests between Mexican coke and US coke (and have come up with inconsistent results), but they really can't control for the difference in freshness of product and the even more important difference between the water used in the US plants and the water used in the Mexican plants (different water sources taste very differently depending on mineral contents).

Suffice it to say that one thing the experiments in this article (and the many similar ones that have been performed over the years--e.g., the difference in flavor people report when they drink the exact same wine out of a bottle with a cheap wine's label on it and when they drink it out of a bottle with an expensive wine's label on it) prove beyond any possible room for argument is that we cannot trust our taste buds in "sighted" tests.
posted by yoink at 9:43 AM on February 3, 2012


The Read Montague study (N=67 - 38 men, 29 women) referenced on page 2:

Samuel M. McClure, Jian Li, Damon Tomlin, Kim S. Cypert, Latané M. Montague and P. Read Montague (2004) Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks. Neuron, 44(2), 379-387.

FTA: Just under seventy volunteers were first asked to taste the competing products in a blind tasting and, just as so often before, Pepsi was the big winner. Pepsi also set off greater activity in the so-called ventral putamen than Coca-Cola.

I don't see that anywhere in the actual article in Neuron. Can someone point that out?

Also, here's a pretty significant note on the study: "Coke and Pepsi were decarbonated in both of the taste tests and scanning experiments in order to ensure reliable delivery through the plastic tubes required for the scanning experiment."

Wiki - Neuromarketing

And here is a 2006 piece on Neuroeconomics from mefi favorite Jonah Lehrer. It's an interesting piece that references the Montague study and has the quote "The mind is a charioteer driving twin horses of reason and emotion. Except cognition is a smart pony, and emotion an elephant."

There's also a picture of Read Montague wearing a Coke/Pepsi pacifier with the rubber tubing.
posted by cashman at 9:44 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quite a number of people have run blind taste tests between Mexican coke and US coke (and have come up with inconsistent results), but they really can't control for the difference in freshness of product and the even more important difference between the water used in the US plants and the water used in the Mexican plants (different water sources taste very differently depending on mineral contents).

Really? That one's so trivial it's not even funny. Mexican Coke has an almost overpowering level of cinnamon aftertaste to it and it's the first thing I noticed upon arriving in the states.
posted by Talez at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2012


Really? That one's so trivial it's not even funny. Mexican Coke has an almost overpowering level of cinnamon aftertaste to it and it's the first thing I noticed upon arriving in the states.

No, the point isn't "it's impossible to tell the difference between Mexican Coke and US Coke" the point is "it's impossible to tell what part of the difference is due to using sugar rather than HFCS." Sugar doesn't have a cinnamon aftertaste, so if Mexican Coke does have that, you're not tasting it because of the different sweeteners used.

Why you would be tasting it is an interesting question: cinnamon is a flavoring in both US and Mexican Coke, and both use the same recipe other than the sweetener. It is possible, I guess, that something in the water used for Mexican Coke interacts with the cinnamon flavoring to bring that note out more.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2012


Talez: "breakfast syrup"

It always makes me cringe to see that. Drive through the rural parts of the U. S., where the agriculture actually occurs, and all you can get is coffee whitener, margarine and breakfast syrup.

OTOH I guess they are all corn products after all.
posted by Rat Spatula at 11:40 AM on February 3, 2012


What should those of us who aren't in the business of tricking people into buying useless things do with the information from these sorts of studies? It seems to me there are a few things worth thinking about.

First, one should always be skeptical when given a description of a fantastic new wine, coffee, or headphone amplifier.

Second, perhaps the ethical thing to do is *not* to share that skepticism with the enthusiast, as long as they aren't causing themselves significant damage. I'm still thinking through this bit, and would be keen to hear other people's thoughts on the ethics of this sort of thing.

If you're convinced that spending five minutes rubbing a magnet over your coffee beans right before you grind them makes a better cup of coffee, then you're almost certainly right that it does. At least for you. If I convince you that you're crazy, then in all likelihood I've made your cup of coffee less good, which seems like a pointlessly mean thing to do. What's more, it could even be that the knowledge that I'm a hopeless philistine who will never understand the true power of magnetized coffee actually makes your experience better. You get to possess secret, elite knowledge in addition to better coffee. If so, then continuing to drink the usual non-magnetized swill without arguing about your crazy ritual may be the kindest thing I can do for you. It doesn't make my coffee any worse, and it makes yours better.

At the same time, is it appropriate to stand by while the coffee-magnet-vendor sells people things they don't need? Shouldn't all that productive energy be put to some better purpose, rather than rewarding a swindler? I'm not sure. If the using the coffee magnets make people happier, then selling coffee magnets really is providing a service. Just because the mechanism isn't what it claims to be doesn't make it less valid. (If one crafted the coffee magnet industry in a way that produced other tangible benefits - say, by paying a living wage to unemployed people - then it could be a very good thing.)

Coffee magnets may be a particularly non-controversial example, but there are plenty of realistic examples of the same dilemma. Homeopathy is an obvious one. The mechanisms proposed to explain it cannot possibly work; unless rather a lot of we know about chemistry and physics is wrong, homeopathic medicine is branded water. But, just because it's branded water doesn't mean it doesn't work.

Controlled studies don't demonstrate that homeopathy fails, they merely show that it's exactly as good as a placebo. And that can be pretty good! In that sense, it's probably not too different from a lot of genuine medicines that are casually applied in cases where they're unlikely to be beneficial. And unlike homeopathic treatments, some of those can do real harm. Wouldn't it be fantastic if everyone taking the latest antibiotics to treat viral diseases switched to homeopathy instead!

Are we then doing advocates a disservice if we try to talk them out of using homeopathy? If they're not spending more than they can afford, or failing to get necessary medical attention, then I suspect the answer is yes. If taking a few drops of magic water makes your headache go away faster, than I'm happy for you, and it would be cruel to deprive you of a medicine that works by explaining why it cannot possibly work. (I've loved a number of people with little bottles of branded water in their medicine cabinets, and each time the topic comes up have wrestled with this question.)

Is there some longer-term harm that comes from these sort of kind omissions? By failing to argue with magnetic coffee advocates, are we creating a world which understands science a little less well? Do the children of coffee-magnet users develop a knee-jerk anti-reason stance that makes them more likely to do stupid things and vote for stupid people? I don't know.

I do know that if I believed in coffee magnets, I'd sure want someone to tell me the truth. But, then, knowing how stuff works is the most important thing in my life. For me, the benefits of learning about the coffee magnet scam would outweigh the return to ordinary coffee by a wide margin. But, is that true for most people?
posted by eotvos at 12:13 PM on February 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was surprised, but shouldn't have been, to see MRI technology applied by a guy who produces movie trailers in Morgan Spurlock's funny The Greatest Movie Ever Sold . Dude had an MRI machine in his office.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:19 PM on February 3, 2012


I've always understood the Pepsi Paradox to be about the size of taste samples. If you drink just a sip, Pepsi tastes better, but for most people the taste gets cloying when drinking a whole can. (Even more so in these days of 1 liter+ softdrink bottles.)

But what do I know, I think both taste like battery acid with a side of ass.
posted by aspo at 12:49 PM on February 3, 2012


Serious Eats came to the conclusion that you just need to put American Coke in glass bottles and label it as Mexican Coke.

"Coke and Pepsi were decarbonated in both of the taste tests and scanning experiments in order to ensure reliable delivery through the plastic tubes required for the scanning experiment."


This is a significant point that casts doubt on the entire conclusion.
Flat Coke is not Coke. The carbonation is a big part of the flavor profile.
Does bubbly Pepsi still beat bubbly Coke?
posted by madajb at 12:53 PM on February 3, 2012


a fascinating study of what can be called the Pepsi paradox.

The Republicans have really run with this idea.

This is a significant point that casts doubt on the entire conclusion.

I don't think you understand the conclusion. It wasn't that Pepsi tastes better than Coke. It's that branding will override underlying physiologically based preferences.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:05 PM on February 3, 2012


I've always preferred the tart, crisp bite of Coke for the way it complements greasy food - American style Chinese food, or pizza, or fatburgers. I don't give a shit if my brain prefers the sweeter Pepsi. I stopped paying attention to my brain years ago.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:58 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does bubbly Pepsi still beat bubbly Coke?

Yes. This is a very robust finding that has been replicated in hundreds of studies.
posted by yoink at 10:18 AM on February 4, 2012


If you're convinced that spending five minutes rubbing a magnet over your coffee beans right before you grind them makes a better cup of coffee, then you're almost certainly right that it does. At least for you.

Yeah, that's a real problem, isn't it? Because the thing that these studies show is that it really isn't a case of people "convincing" themselves that they enjoy it more--they actually do enjoy it more under the power of whatever the illusion happens to be. That is, they're really not having the same taste experience as long as they genuinely believe in the power of the magnets or believe that it's the expensive wine rather than the cheap wine or whatever. I guess it comes down to whether you think the person shares your own belief that it's better to know the truth even if it's at the expense of some sensory enjoyment.
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on February 4, 2012


I still am not seeing where (in the journal article) it says the participants liked pepsi more when given unbranded doses. Does anybody?
posted by cashman at 7:02 AM on February 5, 2012


« Older North Korean People's Army Funky Get Down Juche Pa...  |  LADIES When in need of legal ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments