Red Bull, Jäger and Vegemite are much loved products for many punters in Australia and beyond. Have you ever thought how bizarre this is? It’s fair to say all three are naturally repulsive to the tastebuds - at least at first tasting.
When Dietrich Mateschitz first tested Red Bull with consumers the responses were off the charts. Participants hated it, some claimed it was the worst thing they’d ever tasted.
Rather than refining the formula, Mateschitz decided to invest in building the cult brand that we know as Red Bull today. Mateschitz understood the bigger beverage companies could always formulate a more appealing taste. He stopped wasting time on the formula and invested in building a brand experience none of them could match. Red Bull stands for fun, energy and adventure. People drink it because they want to get more out of their day - or at least show others that they do.
Even more perplexing than the Red Bull case is that of Jägermeister. Nobody drinks Jäger because it tastes nice. I don’t need to know the secret ingredients in Jager to tell you it tastes horrendous. But that’s not the point.
You drink Jager as a bonding ritual with your friends. The god awful taste is to be endured not enjoyed. And then you dare your mate to endure another. Jäger is a great brand experience. It fulfils a primal urge to endure a painful experience in front of an audience.
The last product I’ll talk about is a bit harder for me to understand. I’ve been conditioned from day dot to like it - and I do. A lot. But I can’t let this bias distort the reality. I’m talking about the iconic Vegemite.
Tell any rational person to eat a salt yeast extract and they’d likely tell you to bugger off. What was the response like the last time you saw an overseas visitor eat Vegemite (Kiwis exempt)? For most it triggers an instinctive pursing of the lips and squinting of the eyes. It is a sensory assault to be sure - but certainly not a good one.
Still, millions of Australians eat Vegemite each morning as part of their daily routine because it’s an enjoyable brand experience. Because the tradition is passed down through the generations it has a wonderful nostalgic value. So you wake up, pop in some toast, spread the Vegemite and enjoy a few minutes of comfort before taking on the day. What an amazing psychological experience to deliver.
Which leads to the point of this post. Brand experience and the context in which we consume products are remarkably powerful. So powerful in fact, that they can rewire your brain to enjoy things that by rights you should reject.
This is important to remember in an era where product development seems to rule the business roost. I have no doubt betting the house on product can set a business up for success. But as these cult brands prove, sometimes your money is better invested in cultivating unique and valuable brand experiences for customers.