What iPhones, Andy Warhol, and Coca-Cola Have in Common

A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.
— Andy Warhol

The idea behind the richest consumers buying the same things as the poorest is the essence of Andy Warhol's art. Art had always been something owned by the wealthy, but when Warhol began to mass produce fine art, he created something that completely went against the traditions of the art world. Andy Warhol said, "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke. Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking."

This is great in theory, but what makes us associate a Coke with the president, or Apple products with being creative as opposed to Dell? Many would say that advertising plays a big role, but even still we are very aware of the deceptive nature of advertising and yet can be seduced by brands. Much of it may have to do with the imagery that surrounds that product. Products can sometimes gain a certain amount of non-tangible properties that people automatically associate with them. A certain brand may seem to make you thinner, or a type of knife can somehow make you feel confident in your survival skills. 

The truth is that we can be just as creative on a Mac as we can a Dell. If I buy one knife over another it is probably not going to make me better at surviving, but if I buy a Gerber knife, and learn how to skin a deer with that knife, I am going to automatically associate this experience of rugged accomplishment with Gerber. This can literally force us to manipulate our own experiences without realizing it. If I picked up another knife, and I know that the knife is not Gerber, I will actually have a worse experience with the knife because I have already made a decision that the knife is of lesser value. This theory works the same across all products, services, food, and even people. 

It is scientifically proven that Coke tastes better than RC, so long as you know that it is Coke. There are endless studies surrounding expensive wines and how connoisseurs cannot guess between a $5,000 bottle and a $50 bottle. However if the same connoisseurs know which bottle is which, the $5,000 bottle actually tastes better in real life. 

With this knowledge it can be hard to try and decipher what is objectively better, or what is better because of the brand. I like to think that I will be able to admit when a Microsoft product is finally better than an Apple product, but now I am not so sure.

So if you are trying to create a brand, product, company, food, or even name your child, remember that the associations that come along with that, actually affect how people feel towards it. There is nothing RC can do at this point to make people believe that it really tastes better than Coke, and there is nothing anyone can do to prove that Jiro and his dreams don't actually make the best sushi in the world. Our own experiences of pleasure are just that, our own, and no one can tell us differently. To dive deeper into why we love what we do listen to this episode of The TED Radio Hour.