Branding is a hugely powerful thing. It acts to help us determine the value of the things we buy, and informs every purchase decision we make.
Yet in many cases, that brand value is simply manufactured, and we agree to the value that is created whether that value is “real” or not. In the episode of the TED Radio Hour, several speakers give us their thoughts on “the seductive power of brands.” It’s an eye opener.
As Andy Warhol famously said, “A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the bum on the corner is drinking.”
And he asks, “Why do we feel that way about Coke, and not Shasta or RC?”
Simply, because we believe it tastes better. And because of this belief, it does.
“Perrier tastes better than regular water…so long as you know it’s Perrier,” says Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and cognitive sciences at Yale University. “I think in general our experiences are modulated not just by our senses but by our beliefs.”
So we aren’t mistaken necessarily when we pay value extra for a specific brand, Bloom asserts. That extra money may indeed bring extra pleasure to the user. It all depends on our beliefs about that product’s value.
The trouble comes in trying to discern between real and perceived value. Rory Sutherland, VP of Ogilvy & Mather in the UK, understands this.
“The truth of the matter is,” Sutherland explains, “value is basically subjective.”
For example, he takes the matter of improving train travel. When presented with the challenge of improving the experience of traveling from London to Paris, a room full of engineers comes up with plenty of ways to spend huge sums of money on rails and facilities to shorten the trip.
That’s short-sighted, Sutherland notes, and explains there are ways to think about improving the experience, rather than simply shortening it. He speaks of the “hedonic” value we could add, with supermodels handing out champagne. Passengers, he insists, will ask for the trains to be slowed down!
In one of the most extreme examples of brand management, Joseph Pine talks about the Disney experience. Every bit of every Disney property is highly engineered to deliver the maximum pleasure for visitors. So is it fake? Or is it a new form of authenticity? If the experience happens, and is staged in front of us, that experience is, in essence, authentic.
Branding science is a fascinating field of study, and this TED Hour lecture is definitely worth a listen.