During the past year of increased idle time, many people have picked up new skills. Apparently, a common one is pharmacology. I don’t know where they’ve obtained their degrees, but it sure looks like a bunch of folks have become instant experts on efficacy rates, adverse events and causal relationships.

What else explains vaccine snobbery? Discussions among people in vaccine-eligible categories quickly land on two questions: “Did you get the shot?”, and “Which one?”

For consumers, there’s nothing new about brand loyalty. But I wouldn’t have thought that, in the midst of a pandemic, we’d be treating a potentially life-saving solution like the cola wars.

When people need surgery, do they care what make of scalpel the doctor uses, or what brand of IV bag they’re hooked up to after?

I know the counter-arguments: COVID vaccines are different, because they’re new and we’re dealing with the unknown.

Maybe that explains some hesitancy for some. Who belong to a different group than the hardcore anti-vaxxers and the I-don’t-want-a-microchip-implanted conspiracy nuts.

Let’s be clear. We’re talking here about people who will get the vaccine but are sort of shopping around. Some are checking out what’s on offer as if the vaccines are hors d’oeuvres at a party. Not wild about that appetizer? Another tray will be out in a minute.

Everything available works. The sooner it’s in your arm, the better.

Just goes to show what we already know. With brand preferences, sometimes the label is all the matters, even if we really can’t tell the contents apart.

One review of the cola wars demonstrated how our choices aren’t always logical.

  • In one study, participants were given Coca-Cola, Pepsi and another cola in a blind taste test, and asked to guess which was which. Their answers were no more accurate than chance. And when participants were given the same cola in all three glasses (which they didn’t realize), their answers stayed the same.
  • Another time, study subjects couldn’t tell the difference when they were given Coca-Cola in a Pepsi bottle and vice versa.
  • In another test, subject were given two cups of the same cola. One cup was marked with the letter L, the other with the letter S. Most participants preferred the S drink, by far. What would explain that? After all, this wasn’t even a choice between two colas. The drinks were identical. It seems that people, when asked in another part of the study, just liked the letter S more than the letter L.

Snobbery (and delusion) extends to the experts too. Consider wine tastings.

  • In a classic study from the University of Bordeaux in France, oenology students were given a red wine and asked to talk about it. Except the wine wasn’t really a red. It was a white wine dyed a red colour. Still, these students, all studying wine science, described the white wine just as they would a red.
  •  A California winemaker named Robert Hodgson once convinced the organizers of a wine competition to agree to this experiment. A panel was handed samples to judge, minutes apart. What they didn’t know was that they were being given three glasses from the same bottle. The same judges ended up rating the same wine as good, acceptable and excellent.
  •  For an experiment at Cal-Tech, researchers gave subjects five bottles of wine to assess, from cheap to expensive. While sipping the drinks, the subjects underwent a brain scan. One part of the brain lit up in particular when the subjects were drinking the expensive wine. Which wasn’t really expensive, because the researchers had put the cheap wine in the fancy bottle. Guess if you think something has good taste, it tastes good.

When it comes to consumer goods, food and drink, the outcomes of brand battles are market share. With COVID, the stakes are higher. Again and again, we hear from the medical experts that the best vaccine to get is the first one offered to you.

In this case, it’s not even like we’re being swayed by packaging and ad campaigns, pitting one vaccine brand over another. It’s worse. We’re succumbing to self-made snootiness.

As someone on Twitter said (if I remembered who, I’d credit them), we may all end identifying ourselves in tribes: the Pfizerians, the Modernese, the AstraZenecites and the Johnsons.

The vaccines are speaking the same language, just in different accents (vaccents?). So don’t delay those doses. After all, if you’re dying of thirst who cares if you’re offered a Coke or a Pepsi?

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

April 28, 2021


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