How Brands Control Our Decisions

On August 27, 2013
Large companies spend millions in order to place their brand logos and advertisements everywhere they can, following the saying “out of sight, out of mind”.
Scientists from Charité University Medicine and Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have looked into how powerful is branding in the human brain, investigating the influences of brand cues on gustatory processing of the same beverage (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061569.g003). Researchers found that the tasters brains indicated a preference for the brand colas over the generic ones. Each of the taste testers got the same cola, a mixture of the 4 types, but the subjects liked the taste of the drink labeled “coke” or “pepsi” better than the cola labeled with generic soda names. In addition, the subjects’ brains were tested using fMRI scanning.
When directly comparing the two strong brands cues, more activation in the right amygdala was found for Coca Cola cues compared with Pepsi Cola cues. During the taste phase the same beverage elicited stronger activation in left ventral striatum when it was previously announced by a strong compared with a weak brand. This effect was stronger in participants who drink Cola infrequently and might therefore point to a stronger reliance on brand cues in less experienced consumers.

Contrast maps depicting (A) the contrast of weak (River Cola, T Cola) vs. strong (Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola) brands during cue presentation parametrically modulated with liking judgement over 15 subjects (p<0.001, cluster >18) mapped onto an MNI template shows activity within medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC: 9, 42, −6, BA 10). (B) Coca Cola vs. Pepsi Cola brand during cue phase shows activity within right amygdala (39, 0, −27). (C) Contrast of strong (Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola) vs. weak (River Cola, T Cola) brands during taste phase shows activity within left striatum (−15, 27, −9).

So the visual cues influenced how the person perceived the taste, and even the pleasure. Our brains are trained to like branded companies and their products. The researchers concluded that “the results show the strong effects of brand cues on self-reported pleasantness, as well as on neural responses signalling reward in the brain.


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