The Pepsi Challenge was a marketing tour de force. It proved that in a blind taste test, most consumers prefer Pepsi. So why hasn’t that analytical proof pushed the needle in Pepsi’s favor? Read Montague, Director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab at Baylor College of Medicine, has shown the true power of branding on the brain.
Montague decided to repeat the Pepsi Challenge, but added a twist of technology. Using a non-invasive technique called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) he was able to reveal which parts of the brain are active in real time.
When Montague and his team gave a taste of an unnamed soda to his volunteers he found that more people preferred Pepsi. On the scan, images of the ventral putamen, one of the brain’s key reward centers, had a response that was five times stronger than for people who preferred Coke.
The surprise came when Read repeated the experiment. This time, telling volunteers which brand they were tasting. Nearly all the subjects then said they preferred the Coke. Moreover, different parts of the brain fired as well, especially the medial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with thinking and judging. The subject’s brains were proving that their experience of the Coke brand influenced their preferences.
The work of Montague and other studies proves that branding goes beyond images and memory recall. The medial prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain known to be involved in our sense of self. It fires in response to a stimulus -- an image, name or concept -- that resonates with who we are. Something clicks, and we are more likely to buy.
The science of neuro-marketing is now in its infancy. But what it has proved is that branding isn’t the latest marketing ploy, but a glimpse into how our brains are affected by smart messaging and marketing.