Going with your gut: Emotions change taste

September 3, 2013

One of the more famous stories on the power of branding is of Coca-Cola and its long-time domination over Pepsi in the cola wars. Why is Coke more popular than Pepsi when the majority of people think Pepsi tastes better in blind taste tests?

Several years ago Duke University conducted a study where they did blind taste tests. As usual, more people chose Pepsi over Coke in those tests. They followed this with a named taste test where people could see the logos of which brand they were drinking. Two-thirds of people then proceeded to choose Coke over Pepsi. In the companion brain imaging that the Duke researchers did, they saw participants’ brains light up in the limbic center where the amygdala is when they saw the Coke brand before tasting it, but not so with Pepsi. When the human mind recalls an image, it also recalls the emotion associated with the image.[1]

Visually seeing the Coke logo changed their sense of taste, they had such strong positive, emotional associations with the bright red Coke logo and advertising. That is the power of a strong brand, where the consumer has an emotional connection that overrides their common sense or, as it were, their taste sense.

Learning and emotion are deeply connected. The stronger the emotional reaction you have to a story or to a real life experience, the deeper it is cemented in your mind. Childhood memories are a classic example of this brain processing at work – we remember the happiest and saddest moments of childhood and little in between.

Also, positive images are also recalled faster than negative ones, and also processed more efficiently and accurately.[2] The brain, in essence, rejects negative thoughts.

University of Georgia Professor of Communication Studies Jennifer Monahan writes, “The appeal of positive affect for commercial advertisers is simple:  research consistently shows advertisements that arouse positive emotions result in more positive feelings toward the product and greater intent to comply with the message.”[3]

Be happy and people won’t just remember you, they’ll support you.

Liz Banse

[1] Matlin, Margaret. Cognition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2005.

[2] Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. 2010. P. 154.

[3] Monahan, Jennifer. Thinking Positively: Using Positive Affect When Designing Health Messages, ed. E. Maibach and R. Parrott. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 1995.