The Pepsi Paradox – proof marketing works!

Pepsi Coke Slider

How do you know if Marketing
really works?

If you’ve ever been asked that question (we know we have), then here’s your response.

Relax knowing that your answer is based on real scientific studies and is the nearest thing we can give to a cast iron and scientific guarantee, that will make you look like a marketing genius – and will force a climb down, and a back in their box apology, from your inquisitor.

It’s our gift to you – just use the power wisely!

The only thing you need to do is to learn to quote the two following things:
(1) ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC)
(2) functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner (or fMRI for short)

So next time you’re asked that question at a dinner party, here’s what you need to say. Remember, it’s your answer, so put it your way – just don’t change the science or the data!

marketing, consumer psychology

Who’s for a big helping of science

“I’m glad you asked, because as our understanding of neuroscience becomes more advanced, it allows us to develop a deeper understanding of how the human brain works. And one of the most fascinating studies of recent years looked at brain activity in association with the famous marketing battle we all know as ‘The Pepsi Taste Test’.

With the following, and subsequent studies, producing some very interesting findings that help show how what we do for a living can have an impact upon peoples attitudes to brand and product preference.

To put this in some sort of context, in a blind taste test, with no brand cues, on the whole people tend to prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke, as Pepsi is a little sweeter and we are programmed to like sweet things. However, when we add brand references to the test, things change; with people preferring Coke over Pepsi.

marketing, the pepsi paradox

…no, make that a Pepsi – er no, hang on…

So let’s look at why this might be – and we’ll try and keep the science to a minimum.

In 2004, a team led by Samuel M McClure, at the Department of Neuroscience in the Psychiatry Behavioural Sciences Faculty, College of Medicine in Houston Texas published a paper on “Neural Correlates of Behaviour Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks”.

To summarise the McClure study, subjects were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner (fMRI) and given both Pepsi and Coke to taste (in a blind condition) and asked to state their preference.

During the blind tasting, activity was observed in the area of the subjects’ brain linked to decision making (the ventromedial prefrontal cortex [VMPC]). With activity in the VMPC correlating to the taste preferences subjects expressed.

However, when subjects were given the drinks in a brand-cued way, where they knew they were drinking either Pepsi or Coke; then other neurological activity was observed.

marketing

You heard it here first

Specifically activity in areas of the brain linked to memory (Hipocampus), to cognition (Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and to motivation (the mid-brain) were observed. All of this new activity seems to override the VMPC and changes the subject’s original preference!

Now the only things that can cause this activity are perceptions, attitudes, memories and motivations linked to how the subject feels about either Pepsi or Coke. You know – the kind of things we all do for a living.

So, as marketing bods, you can now quote this study to ‘prove’ the effect that advertising and marketing has upon the decision making processes of consumers.

proof that marketing works

The science of marketing (ish)

There are some really interesting follow-on studies that explore the VMPC as an important neurological substrate in conversion of brand information and imagery into social emotions and motivations. With other studies that suggest that merely being exposed to the brand itself can be as rewarding as actually sampling the brand’s taste!

If you’d like to know more about these studies or, more importantly, how Consumer Psychology can help your brand, products or services develop an edge, then get in touch with our Consumer Psychology Team.

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