Let’s suppose we’re developing a campaign to turn meat eaters into vegetarians. For many veggies, the logical proposition would be the moral argument that ‘meat is murder’. It works for them, but will it work for meat lovers?

A recent study by Michael Allen of the University of Sydney suggests maybe not. According to Allen, to many consumers meat means social power. And, for some, it’s the power that really tastes good.

In his study, participants were asked to taste a variety of sausage rolls, but were not told that some of them were vegetarian. This experiment was inspired by the discovery that people rated yoghurt and sandwiches labelled full fat as tastier than those labelled low fat, even though the product was exactly the same and only the label was different. Allen and his team found that when meat lovers were told they were eating sausage rolls made from real beef, they always preferred these even though half the time it was actually a vegetarian substitute. Similarly, when told they were eating a veggie roll, most didn’t much like the taste of it although half of the samples were actually 100% beef.

But he didn’t stop there. A questionnaire assessed the extent to which the participants sought to dominate others socially and also acquire resources, wealth and public recognition. The results showed that those who were low on ‘social power values’ preferred the sausage rolls they were told were vegetarian and those high on social power found the beef more tasty even when it was just the veggie option labelled as beef.

He then asked them to wash it all down with a glass of either own-label cola or Pepsi. Again, they didn’t know which was which. Needless to say, Allen discovered that participants who strongly agreed that ‘life should be full of excitement’ thought the cola they were told was Pepsi was tastier, even when it was actually own label.

So what does all this tell us? Firstly, never accept a dinner invitation from Michael Allen. And secondly, spending vast sums to get your brand associated with certain values is probably money well spent, so long as the values they promote coincide with the consumer’s. It also suggests that the well-meaning vegetarians who assert that ‘meat is murder’ are only going to harden meat lovers’ resolve, not to mention their arteries.

You are what you eat, as they say. Or as Howard Moskowitz, the experimental psychologist and inventor of many innovative food market research techniques puts it, ‘The mind knows not what the tongue wants’.

Professor Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and author of the Amazon number one bestselling book, Life’s A Game So Fix The Odds. www.heskethtalking.com