Official: Coke takes over parts of the brain that Pepsi can't reach

The mind-altering power of advertising has been demonstrated in a remarkable study of the way in which brand recognition affects the workings of the human brain.

A well-known label is so influential, say researchers, that it can alter consumers' perception of the product's taste. They believe the findings are particularly important given the role that sugared soft drinks have on the epidemic of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The experiment, a laboratory-controlled version of the famous Pepsi Challenge, revealed that flavour seems to be the last thing that consumers rely on in their preference for Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

When asked to taste blind, they showed no preference. However, when the participants were shown company logos before they drank, the Coke label, the more famous of the two, had a dramatic impact: three-quarters of the tasters declared they preferred Coke.

At the same time the researchers found that the Coke label stimulated a huge increase in activity in parts of the brain associated with cultural knowledge, memory and self-image - so much that the scientists could use brain scans to predict which soft drink an individual was likely to prefer. The Pepsi label produced no such increase.

It is believed to be the first time that brand marketing has been shown to have a direct effect on the brain's capacity to make a choice.

Although the finding seems calculated to delight the marketing industry, it suggests that a handful of iconic brands have a particular hold on the public mind. Coca-Cola is so firmly established that it changed our perception of Christmas by persuading us that Santa Claus wears red. This "tradition" is believed to be largely the result of decades of December advertising in which Santa sported the company's corporate colour.

The findings suggest there is no scientific basis for claims made during the Pepsi ad campaign in which testers purportedly chose Pepsi over Coke when they were not told what they were drinking. "We initially measured these behavioural preferences by administering double-blind taste tests," the researchers say in their study, published in the current issue of the journal Neuron. "We found that subjects split equally in their preference for Coke and Pepsi in the absence of brand information."

The scientists chose Pepsi and Coke because the two drinks are almost indistinguishable in colour and taste yet many people express a definite preference for one or the other soft drink. "Everybody's heard of Coke and Pepsi. They have messages and, in the case of Coke, those message have insinuated themselves in our nervous system," Dr P Read Montague, director of the Brown Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Baylor College in Houston, Texas, said. "There's a huge effect of the Coke label on brain activity related to the control of actions, the dredging up of memories and self-image. There is a response in the brain which leads to a behavioural effect."

Simply looking at a person's brain scan, the scientists were able to predict which soft drink the individual concerned was likely to prefer. "We were stunned by how easy this was," Dr Montague said. The ventral putamen, which is involved in reward-related learning, was active when people drink Coke or Pepsi. This is expected as the brain treats the pleasant taste of sugared water as a reward.

However, the scans also showed that the hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain involved in recalling emotions and cultural memories, were involved when the volunteers were exposed to the Coke brand. The Pepsi brand, meanwhile, had virtually no effect.

Dr Montague said that the work can help to understand why people form eating or drinking habits that may not be good for their health.

"We are not trying to figure out how to market something better. We want to be able to better understand how brains work so that we can cure more neurological disorders."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam