"Coke is it!"
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Why brains love Coke
For the record, I don't drink Coca Cola, or Pepsi, or most brands of high profile, flavored sugar water.

I must confess, though, that I do enjoy the occasional
Dr. Pepper with my pizza. It's a combination of salty and sweet that's hard to beat. At least that's what I tell myself. I've been drinking Dr. P with Za since my wife and I bought and began renovating our first home way back in 1984.
Ah, there it is. The association. It's not so much the soda and pizza combination that I love, it's associating it with my honey and recalling a time when life was fresh and our futures stretched out forever.

Our unconscious mind is a repository of all our past experiences. Our loves, losses and learned habits, those repetitive quirks that include the thrilling, irrational loyalty to a brand.  Many of our memories are considered implicit or "non declarative" because we no longer can explicitly recall them, like the feeling of drinking a cold Coke on a hot summer day at age 9. But the positive feeling is still there, bouncing off the recesses of our unconscious.

The multisensory mind 
Unlike the conscious mind, which is linear in thought and best at dealing with handling single tasks and analyzing logical facts, the unconscious mind is much more perceptive, holistic and multisensory.

In last month's newsletter I poked fun at Coke because it doesn't offer the same experiential perks that say, the Apple store or Chuck E. Cheese does. But what Coca Cola does have that most brands would kill for is a deep emotional history with millions of customers around the world. That's why the folks at Coke and other smart marketers use stories, poems, songs, jokes, pictures, characters and rich metaphors to bypass our critically thinking conscious minds to strike at our heart and gut.

Think about Coke for a moment and chances are a flood of images and sounds rush in, from the color and shape of the bottle, to people singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing..." to frolicking polar bears, Mean Joe Green tossing his jersey to a young fan, or a larger than life Santa Claus washing down a cookie with a hearty gulp of soda. The marketers at Coca Cola have paid billions in advertising dollars to make sure their product occupies a prime spot in your brain. 

Beating the Pepsi Challenge
Why has Coca Cola invested so much? As Read Montague, director of the Brown Human Neuroimaging Lab at Baylor College of Medicine explains:
"There is a huge effect of the Coke label on brain activity related to the control of actions, the dredging up of memories, and the things that involve self-image."
That's what Dr. Montague and his team concluded after reconstructing the 1980s "Pepsi Challenge" (which showed that cola drinkers preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coke in blind taste tests), by having volunteers sample colas while having their brains scanned with a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine.

The FMRI is a harmless, noninvasive approach to visually observing the brain in action by measuring the dynamic flow of blood in the brain which signals what parts and functions of the brain are being activated. When participants did not know which cola they were drinking, the stated preference was roughly 50/50. But when the same participants were shown a can of Coke or Pepsi before taking a sip, the scans "lit up" with activity in the frontal area of the brain involved in decision making, working memory, associations, and higher cognitive thinking. This same area is also involved with defining our personality and our sense of self.

Gimme More
And that's not all. Just by looking at a can or bottle of Coca Cola triggered the release of dopamine in participants' brains. Dopamine is the "gimme more" neurotransmitter responsible for the wanting and craving of everything from sex and drugs to gambling, playing video games and even shopping. Dopamine is the natural feel good "drug" of anticipation and reward. Pepsi simply can't compete with the vivid, long-term associations (and cravings) people have for Coke.

The fascinating and somewhat disturbing reality is, our brand preference has very little to do with rational choice and instead relies primarily on which choice "feels better" to us at that moment. You see a comfortable, well known brand, your brain gives you a happy squirt of dopamine, and you reach for your favorite soda, because your anticipatory emotions are "sweeter" for one product than another. 

Oh, and if you think our irrational brand preferences are limited to soda pop, think again. Tune in next month... 


Mental Notes is Evolving
In the coming months, dear reader, you and I will
explore the psychology and neuroscience of branding, both personal and professional. As a result, Mental Notes
will continue to evolve and complement my role as a national brand consultant, speaker and coach. I welcome your comments and questions along the way. Buckle up
for an exhilarating ride!