In 2004, a team of neuroscientist conducted a new version of the Pepsi Challenge. Not only did participants had to indicate which cola they prefer, but they had to do this while their brain was scanned. Results showed that when subjects tasted samples of Pepsi and Coke with and without the brand’s label, they reported different preferences (McClure et al., 2004). Without labels, subjects evaluate both drinks similarly. When drinks were labeled, subjects report a stronger preference for Coke, and this effect was correlated with a stronger activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This was due, according to the researchers (and many neuromarketers) to the effectiveness of Coke’s branding strategies. Somehow, Coke managed to trigger certains associations in our brain, and simply seeing their logo is enough to make a drink taste better. A similar effect was observed with costly wine bottles. Non-experts feels that the same bottle of wine with an expensive price tag is more appreciated than with a cheap one, and the expensive one elicit stronger activity in orbitofrontal cortex (Plassmann et al, 2008). Again, an area important in emotional processing.
A new study (Koenigs & Tranel, 2008) showed that some people are less sensitive to this branding effect: subjects with ventromedial prefrontal cortex damage (an area involved in emotional processing). Unlike their normal counterpart, these patients maintained their preference for Pepsi. Thus, as the authors conclude “[l]acking the normal affective processing, VMPC patients may base their brand preference primarily on their taste preference.” The VMPC thus act as a gate that let emotional memories affect present evaluations.
- Koenigs, M., Tranel, D. (2007). Prefrontal cortex damage abolishes brand-cued changes in cola preference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 3(1), 1-6. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsm032
- McClure, S. M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K. S., Montague, L. M., & Montague, P. R. (2004). Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks. Neuron, 44(2), 379-387.
- Plassmann, H., O'Doherty, J., Shiv, B., Rangel, A. (2008). Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(3), 1050-1054. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0706929105