Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Vodka Parables

Recently at a bar with some Brazilians I was talking about the wide price differences in alcohol here. One person was very opinionated on the issue and made the following statements about three different vodkas.

A. This vodka is terrible, it's just low quality and doesn't taste good at all.

B. I like this one better. I'll order it with mix drinks. But it's not the best.

C. This vodka is like heaven. I feel nothing in the morning and it goes down so smooth.

Now what if I told you that in taste tests, the vodkas often finish A,B,C. Confused? Does my friend just have really bad taste in vodka? Let me tell you about how marketing can mess with our heads, using Vodka as the example.

The vodkas? A is Smirnoff (here's one review surprised it is so good in blind taste tests), B is Absolut, and C is Grey Goose.

Smirnoff is the best seller, Absolut is the famous marketing machine, and Grey Goose is the first to create the so-called "super-premium" vodka category. Problem is, price doesn't always correlate with taste (this article explains that actually many vodka makers get their ingredients from the same place).

In reality, people formulate a huge part of their decision based upon the container and marketing (as MalcolmGladwell put rather well in Blink, hat tip to Get Rich Slowly for getting permission to excerpt it). It's no coincidence my friend thinks the expensive ones are better.

As few wine experts as there are, there are even fewer Vodka experts. I certainly am not one. Most people haven't a clue between Albertson's Best and the most expensive brands. Mix it with cranberry and it's downright impossible for most.

A trick I used on occasion in college was to buy two bottles, an expensive one and the cheapest one. I would put the expensive vodka in the cheap bottle and vice versa. At parties I would offer the nice bottle to moocher guests I didn't know, but friends knew which one had the good stuff.

Not once did anybody ever say anything. Not one person could ever tell the difference. The other weird thing is that when I told friends the good stuff was in the cheap bottle, it was like they still didn't think it was the good stuff. Not that they didn't believe me, I think it's that they have this image of getting their vodka from a pretty blue, sleek Skyy bottle, and that's more important than the actual vodka.

This isn't just about the vodka, of course. This extends to all kinds of products. Cereals, soap, milk, canned soup. The point is that even if you think you are in control of your consumer emotions, you are susceptible to marketing and it would behoove you to at least recognize it, if not outright defy it. And next time, just get Smirnoff.


Blogger Jeff said...

I remember when you first told me about the vodka switch. Brilliant!

5:02 AM  
Blogger Bradley said...

So classic! Good times at the Helen Street house.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

I remember when I first watched the vodka switch (first weekend hanging out) I was thinking, "am I really about to date this cheap bastard?" haha

10:01 PM  

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