Brand Loyalty: an Exercise in Mindless Irrationality?

Recent Coke slogans over the last couple years have put an emphasis on “The Coke Side of Life”: less about the taste, per se, than the lifestyle. A great post by MediaPost talks about how “the strongest brands evoke a visceral response, beyond the reach of reason” (and taste too, apparently). Coke/Pepsi blind-test studies show a majority of individuals overwhelmingly preferring Pepsi over Coke (and you thought those Pepsi Challenge commercials were just a marketing ploy!)

Essentially, if carbonated sugar water was all about taste, Pepsi would – should – win out, every time. But with Coke overwhelmingly beating Pepsi in the market for cola, clearly there’s another aspect at work: brand loyalty and the power of the mind over the body. Create a strong enough relationship between a consumer and his cola and no matter what the taste-tests say, consumers will prefer the brand they think is better. A 1985 campaign by Coca-Cola to launch “New Coke,” a sweeter, closer-to-Pepsi version of cola ended disastrously, despite individuals unanimously preferring the taste in consumer research tests: Coke underestimated the brand loyalty among diehard Coke Classic fans – particularly brand loyalty amongst those in the Southeast, Coke’s home territory (personally, I don’t know how this could have slipped past them: a century’s passed since the Civil War, but if you went solely according to the number of civil war renactments still going on, you’d think it happened yesterday – bearing testimony to the alive-and-fighting Southern spirit and their continual hold on all things they consider part of their regional identity. And Coke Classic has clearly become one of them.

It’s pretty scary how, with the right branding, we can develop the same kind of death-grip loyalty to a company that transcends even our conception of the product itself. It’s the kind of “ism” usually reserved for nations or religion.

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