Coke-Pepsi Challenge

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Branding is often the only difference between competing products within the same category, but what a difference it is. Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola are virtually identical in chemical composition, yet people routinely display a strong preference for one or the other. A 2004 study into how our perception of the brands shapes our preferences was carried out at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, USA. In the experiment, one group of subjects was given Coke and Pepsi anonymously, without any branding or indication as to which was which, while the second group was given branded versions of the two colas to try. During the tasting, the subjects were given MRI scans to determine if anything different was happening in their brains. In the anonymous task, the scans revealed that this group was relying exclusively upon sensory information to inform their preference. Scans for the group given branded products, revealed something completely different was going on. This group was using other parts of the brain to arrive at their decision, most notably the hippocampus, which plays an important role in the formation of new memories about experienced events. The results showed that the subjects’ brand knowledge was biasing their decisions to such an extent that it was actually overriding sensory information. In essence, we prefer a particular brand because we think we’ll prefer it, not because we actually do.

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