I tweeted this a week or 2 ago and a bunch of people responded on Twitter saying that it had happened to them.
And then Coca-Cola decided to pull the cans citing consumer confusion and that.
All well and good in the age of very low latency consumer feedback, especially about iconic packaging.
But I didn't notice, until my mate Matt pinged it to me, that part of the consumer issue with the cans was not that they were confusing it with Diet Coke but that COKE CLASSIC TASTED DIFFERENT IN WHITE CANS.
This WSJ article mentions it in passing, The Atlantic calls it out a little more:
consumers "felt that regular Coke tasted different in the white cans".
Coke officials deny tweaking the taste, and say they only changed the can.
But, see, it's not that consumers are confused in this scenario, rather that the understanding of what 'taste' actually is, is - because when you change the can too much, you change the taste.
Taste happens in the mind, so it's more complex than just chemicals - it happens at the intersection of lots of different things, including of course the chemicals and your tongue, but also including less obvious things, like expectation [you will love this] and concepts of value [this wine is very expensive] and where you are [anchoring/priming] and memories associated with it and such.
Here's a post I wrote a few years back about this [it was anchored to a stealth focus group ad where consumers claimed taste preference for diamond shape shreddies, as opposed to square ones...]:
I've been reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It illustrates the fact, that we intuitively know but that classical economics refuses to accept, that we aren't rational beings. We make decisions that are seemingly irrational, in the same way over and over again, because of how our brains are hardwired: anchors and priming, emotions and social context all interact to change how we choose.
One of the things he highlights is the power of expectation to alter experience. He describes a replication of the famous Coke/Pepsi taste tests, done with the subjects in an MRI to record how their brain is processing the experience of tasting the drinks.
We all know how it works - in blind taste tests, Pepsi usually wins, but when the brands are revealed, people prefer The Real Thing [TM].
And, according the experiment, it's because that the experience of consuming branded sugar water is different - the Coke brand activates different associations in the memory and emotional parts of the brain, which contribute to the consumption experience.
Which means that, when you drink a Coke, a part of what you are tasting is the brand.
As Coca-Cola just found out.
And, in there, somewhere, is the magic bit of good branding.