I believe I can taste

Yes, Shakira, those hips don’t lie…Taste buds do though.

Taste buds are the objective, reliable workers that can sift through all the marketing and tell exactly how a product tastes, right?

Well, actually it ain’t that simple buster. It appears we taste with our eyes and minds as much as we do with our taste buds. Top down factors (your beliefs, desires, and expectations) play an equal role in the experience of something as bottom up processes (stimulus affecting your sensory organs).

An example of this is ‘Sensation transference’ which is the funky effect of design on product experience. Louis Cheskin, a Ukraine marketer coined this phrase in the 1930’s. He found that design and customers’ perception are entwined like a couple of teenage sweethearts. One piece of proof he found was that when more yellow is added to the label, 7up is rated as tasting more lemony[1]. A recent example is Coke’s attempt at white cans. Many consumers reported taste changes and subsequently coke had to pull it [2]!

What about non-design elements? Many other factors come into play such as brand perception, price and even the weight of a product. Here are some more examples of such phenomenon at work. Coke is rated higher when consumed from a cup bearing the brand logo rather than from an unmarked cup[3], preference for your favourite beer vanishes if the labels on the beers being compared are removed[4], when people take a placebo painkiller thinking it’s real they report less pain[5]. In an experiment, the price of the sample wine was kept secret. The result was that cheap and expensive wine was rated the same. However, when the participants were told of the price, they report the more expensive one tasting better[6]. These all show that expectations about a product can greatly affect people’s experience.

What relevance does this all have? Well for marketers, their pursuit of listing endless product/service benefits can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as the consumer believes in all the benefits a brand boasts about, they’re more likely to actually experience those benefits. So try this at home; get a Sainsbury’s basics item, pack it in M&S packaging and see if people take the bait…This is not to say that the actual quality of a product does not matter. It’s simply that your belief and perceptions of the brand play a large role in your actual experience of it. The whole concept of taste tests can also become a little irrelevant. Sure, one cola brand might taste better than another when consumed in a blind test where no branding is at play but this is never the case in reality. The marketing and branding of a product can have an equal if not more significant impact on the taste.

Bon appetit!

[1] Cheskin 2014

[2] https://www.fastcompany.com/1804825/coke-discovers-hard-way-people-can-taste-color

[3] McClure et al., 2004

[4] Allison & Uhl, 1964

[5] Williams et al. 2010

[6] http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/37328

Share.

About Author

Charlie Southwood

Charlie is studying Marketing & French at Southampton and enjoys exploring consumer behaviour and behavioural economics. He also loves a fun fact; bring him to any pub quiz and reap the rewards.

Leave A Reply