A Houston researcher claims to have found a reason for Coke's domination of the cola market - and it doesn't have much to do with the product itself
In the decades-long battle of the colas, Coke continues to outsell Pepsi. Not because it costs less or tastes nicer, but because the consumer just thinks it's better. Let me explain.
In the early 1980s, a series of taste tests found that most people actually preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coke. Provided, that is, they were blindfolded during the challenge and couldn't see which one they were drinking.
However, run the challenge without the blindfolds and the results were almost always reversed. Coca Cola - or Coke as it is universally known - proved itself time again to be the real thing. But why?
Years later, Reed Montague and his team at the Neuro-imaging Lab in Houston came up with an answer. His researchers discovered that the ventral putamen - a part of the brain thought to process feelings of reward - behaved differently when people used only taste information than when they also had brand identification.
So, according to Montague, we have been brainwashed by years of advertising telling us that Coke is better, so that when we see a can and take a swig our ventral putamen thinks 'bingo'. Neuron connections go straight to your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex - which is the area concerned with opinions - and your brain tells you that you love the taste, even though your taste buds may be screaming for you to gag.
So, the first thing you should know about your preference for Coke or Pepsi is that you don't really know what you are doing; so deep is the belief about certain brands in your brain. This explains why it's such a hard job to get people to change their mind about brands regardless of how good the product might be.
The second thing you should know about Coke is who really won the cola war - and it's not the customer.
If you go to a bar and ask for Coca-Cola you will often get the reply 'Will Pepsi be OK?' That's because bars that sell Pepsi don't sell Coke, and vice versa.
Maybe these establishments would gain a marketing advantage if they were able to offer both. Because when you offer the customer a choice their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex gets all excited and they come back for more.
Incidentally, if you were Coca-Cola and knew that people liked your brand but preferred the taste of Pepsi, what would you do to strengthen your market position? You would bring out New Coke, which tasted more like Pepsi.
This is exactly what they did, with disastrous consequences. Which just goes to show, you can't fool all the people all the time.n
Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and author of 'Life's A Game So Fix The Odds'