You’ve probably seen a food commercial that uses the switcheroo trick. A company films “unknowing” consumers, claiming they’re giving them something gourmet and special. The consumers rave about how good the food is. And then BAM! The company reveals that the “gourmet coffee” the consumers just drank was actually instant coffee from Folger’s. Or that the “organic food” they praised minutes earlier was actually McDonald’s sandwiches cut into tiny pieces. Or that the “authentic lasagna” validated by Italians was actually from Pizza Hut.
The concept behind these stunts is that consumers will go into the experience without a bias, enjoy the experience, and then gain new appreciation for the product at hand. But that’s assuming people will still enjoy the product once they know more about it – and that’s not actually guaranteed. Our biases and beliefs tamper with our guts.
I was thinking about this the other day when I heard a new song I liked. I Googled the lyrics to figure out who the artist was so I could add the song to my playlist. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the song was from an artist I typically dislike. “Wait,” I said to myself. “This can’t be – I’m not supposed to like her music!”
That “supposed to” is risky, my friends. Clearly I liked the song – so why deny myself the pleasure of listening to it? It’s easy to get caught up in our biases of what we are supposed to like, should like, typically like, etc., and it can be hard to break from those habits. It’s illogical to decide to dislike a song you like… just because of who sings it. But we do things like this all the time. We hit some sort of cognitive dissonance when we have an experience that challenges our notions about taste and preference. I remember a high school classmate who lost interest in a denim brand once she learned it was sold at a mass department store in addition to smaller boutiques. The actual brand didn’t change, the jeans were the same quality as ever – but the fact it was available at a store she didn’t identify with suddenly made the brand unappealing. The product’s function didn’t change, but her perception did.
It’s funny we can’t just accept that we like what we like. But so often we want our actions and tastes to fit some determined code of what we think we are into. We want to live up to this ideal we have of ourselves, who we are, what we are all about. So even if we think that Pizza Hut lasagna was absolutely delicious when we tasted it, we may shun it once we find out it wasn’t handcrafted by celebrity Italian chefs. Because preference just isn’t absolute – it’s relative.