Brand Names, Peanut Butter, Beer, and You


People tend to view brand names they're familiar with more favorably than brand names they're not, and that finding could be important for you and your work.

People tend to view brand names they're familiar with more favorably than brand names they're not, and that finding could be important for you and your work.

In his book, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, author Gerd Gigerenzer describes research in which researchers put labels on three jars of peanut butter. One jar contained a well-known, readily-recognized brand. The other two jars contained unknown brands. But the researchers, clever people that they are, put the well-known brand in a jar with the label of the unfamiliar brand. They then asked participants to taste peanut butter from each jar and select which they liked better.

The result: 73% of the participants preferred the peanut butter in the jar with the label of the recognized brand. As Gigerenzer notes, "Name recognition was more influential than taste perception."

In a second test, researchers put the exact same peanut butter into all three jars, and labeled two jars with the unfamiliar labels and one jar with a brand name label. You guessed it: In the taste test, the majority of participants -- 75% -- rated the jar with the recognized brand as the best. Clearly, they were swayed by their recognition of the name brand.

And beer? Well, many beer drinkers who have a favorite brand claim that it tastes better than other brands. But in blind taste tests, they're unable to recognize their preferred brand. For example, 300 Americans who drank beer at least three times a week were given familiar brands to taste. As long as the label was on the bottle, they gave "their" brand superior ratings over all the others. When the labels were removed, they no longer rated their own brand as superior.

So the relevance to you? Well, in the workplace, you are a brand, whether you intend to be or not. How people perceive you defines your brand. Therefore, once you've gained a reputation for doing high-quality work, that's the label people are going to attach to you and that's how they're going to view your efforts on their behalf. That makes a good case for striving to build a first-rate reputation. In fact, if you have that reputation and, on rare occasions, the quality of your work slips, those who are counting on you are likely to give you a bit of slack (provided, of course, that it's just an isolated and temporary slip).

I haven't come across research into which brand people choose if the familiar brand name has a damaged reputation, but it seems likely that in that case, many would prefer an unfamiliar brand. It seems reasonable to assume that if you've done less than stellar work, that will be your brand, and that's how others will perceive you.

Perhaps something to keep in mind next time you enjoy a brand name PB (& of course J) sandwich with your favorite beer.

User Comments

Anonymous's picture

Indeed very interesting article. We always carry away by a big banner and don't care about the contents.

December 2, 2009 - 11:11pm
Anonymous's picture

True, Kajal, and I suspect that it would be very hard for most of us to be totally objective about the contents when we can see the label -- as least as it concerns products like peanut butter and beer.

August 6, 2009 - 1:23am

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