Nice branding can make things taste better

Nicely branded Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale
Nicely branded Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale

We’ve always felt slightly guilty about how easily we are influenced by the packaging and presentation of our beer. This week, however, a friend tipped us off to a piece of research from 2004 which suggests we’re not being entirely irrational.

The experiment showed that people actually had a stronger pleasurable reaction to a soft drink when they were cued up to expect one brand or another, and presented with packaging.

Test subjects were given Coke and Pepsi without being told which brand was which. These drinks are chemically almost identical, as Samuel McClure points out. With no branding to refer to, the subjects showed about the same degree of “neural response” in the “ventromedial prefrontal cortex” in both cases. Then, when they were told which brand was which (when they were “brand cued”) they not only stated a preference for one over the other, but actually, measurably enjoyed it more.

So, maybe when we get all excited by the nice label on a bottle of beer, and the pretty glass it’s served in, and the quality of the head on the beer — stuff that shouldn’t really matter, but does to us — we have a similar chemical-electrical reaction?

We’re not scientists. If anyone would like to correct or elaborate on our primitive understanding of what this research means, go for it!

9 replies on “Nice branding can make things taste better”

“Hi, I’m Samuel McClure. You might know me from such scientific studies as ‘Can Dogs Play Cards?’ and ‘Billy, the Microbe Who Didn’t Believe’.”

At least here in Lagerland the head is an important part of the beer, not only in terms of looks, but also because it keeps the aromas and I think it makes it taste better.
PS: got your email and answered it, check your spambox if you haven’t got it

The brand expectation thing was definitely a factor in the blind stout tasting we did, only in reverse: people thought “I don’t like this, and I know I don’t like Stout X, therefore this must be Stout X”, and mostly got the wrong answer as a result.

Thanks for that. Interesting report. It’s so true though.

I have evidence of that with Real Ale. When we get a big brand drinker in with their Real Ale mates, our offer of a taster often works because there is peer pressure to overcome the inertia of the effect. They go on to enjoy the ale and have a second and third and……

A lone confirmed big brand drinker is much more likely to decide the first taster is no good.

One day I’m going to “fizz up” some light ale and serve it through the lager font just to see what happens.

I agree, beer without a head is not as good as with. The head is important for aroma release in my view – it would be interesting to get some science on that one.

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