The Pepsi Challenge and who won the Cola war | Blog | MFL Global

The Pepsi Challenge and who won the Cola war by Phil Hesketh

In the decades-long battle of the colas, Coke continues to outsell Pepsi. Not because it costs less or tastes nicer, but because, we the consumer, just think that it’s better. Let me explain.Philip Hesketh

Back in the early 1980s, a series of taste tests found that most people actually preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coke. Provided, that is, they were blindfolded during the challenge and couldn’t see which one they were drinking.  However, run the challenge without the blindfolds and the results were almost always reversed. Coca Cola – or Coke as it is universally known – proved itself time again to be the real thing. But why?

Well, years later, Reed Montague and his team at the Neuro-imaging Lab in Houston, came up with an answer. His researchers discovered that the ventral putamen – one of the brain’s reward centres – behaved differently when people used only taste information than when they also had brand identification.

So, brainwashed by years of advertising telling you that Coke is better, when you see a can and take a swig your ventral putamen thinks bingo.

(My words, not Montague’s.)

Technically speaking, this area is hijacked and the neuron connections go straight to your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which is the area concerned with opinions. So your brain is telling you that you love the taste even though your taste buds may be screaming for you to gag.

So the first thing you should know about your preference for Coke or Pepsi is that you don’t really know what you are doing; so deep is the belief about certain brands in your brain. Which explains why it’s such a hard job to get people to change their mind about brands regardless of how good the product might be. You might well have that frustration yourself..

But the second thing you should know about Coke is who really won the cola war. Well not the customer for a start. If you go to any bar and ask for Coca-Cola you will often get the reply ‘Will Pepsi be OK?’ That’s because bars that sell Pepsi don’t sell Coke, and vice versa.

Maybe, these establishments would gain a marketing advantage if they were able to offer both. Because we all know what happens when you offer the customer a choice. That’s right, their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex gets all excited and they come back for more.

Incidentally, if you were Coca Cola and knew that people liked your brand but preferred the taste of Pepsi, what would you do to strengthen your market position? Of course, you would bring out New Coke  which tasted more like Pepsi. This is exactly what they did with disastrous consequences. Which just goes to show, you can’t fool all the people all the time.

Article written by Philip Hesketh.  Philip is one of the country’s leading experts on sales motivation, Philip Hesketh both commands the attention of an audience and captures its imagination. He has a potent mix of thought-provoking, well-researched, persuasive techniques and his own highly entertaining, unique brand of humour. The result? Audiences are enthralled as well as informed from the first minute to last. Smiling throughout and often laughing out loud. But more importantly, they leave the event inspired and better informed on how buying, selling, persuading and influencing actually work. His talks are always tailored to a client’s particular organisation or industry.

To listen to Phil’s podcast