When you say you prefer a certain brand, how much of your opinion is actually yours?
Most of us like to think our opinions are our own and that branding doesn't influence us. There's only one way to know for sure: the blind test. And as we saw last week, blind tests are a rigorous and fun way to control for the influence of branding and advertising, and they often produce surprising (and money-saving) results. Today, we'll walk through a practical example of a blind test we did here at Casual Kitchen. It was a taste-off of four versions of nature's greatest substance: dark chocolate.
This entire tasting cost just over ten bucks, and it was the most fun I'd had on a Monday night in years. There were four of us participating: Laura, me, and my parents, both total chocolate addicts who I hold directly responsible for my own uncontrollable addiction.
Our taste test wasn't extensive: we simply tested four typical brands found in any supermarket:
1) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao $2.99 for a 3.5 ounce bar, or 86c per ounce
2) Cadbury $2.19 for a 3.5 ounce bar, or 63c per ounce
3) Dove $2.79 for a 3.3 ounce bar, or 84c per ounce
4) Hershey's $2.19 for a 4.25 ounce bar, or 52c per ounce
These four brands represent a fairly broad range of quality. The price range isn't all that wide unless you consume as much dark chocolate as I do.
Had we simply let price and brand signal quality for us, we'd have an obvious hierarchy. Ghirardelli would be "best" and Hershey's would be "worst." Dove comes in second and Cadbury third. Most people would probably agree with that ranking.
So we set out the chocolate, cut into small chunks to obscure all branding, and started tasting. (And that's when my 83-year-old mother said "I'm going to have to taste this chocolate more than one time, Daniel." Eighty-three and as sneaky as ever).
And Cadbury won. Dove came in second. Hershey's was the consensus last place, receiving comments like "too sweet, weird texture." What was most intriguing, though, was that Ghirardelli came in third--a disappointing finish for a product that supposedly signals itself as a premium brand worth a premium price.
Here's the thing. Maybe Ghirardelli is truly high quality chocolate, and my parents and I have terrible taste in chocolate. But so what? We like what we like.
Now that I know I prefer two other, lower-priced brands, why would I continue to pay extra for Ghirardelli? Should I continue to let that brand's market position and high price signal "Buy me! I'm high quality!" when the overwhelming proof from my own tastebuds says otherwise?
Once again, branding provides little or no value for consumers. It merely reflects billions of dollars of advertising and marketing spent to encourage us to stop thinking for ourselves.
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