A Few Thoughts on Branding After Travelling in Europe

In Europe, we stayed several times in rental apartments we found through the invaluable VRBO website.  One advantage of these apartments is that we can cook breakfast, avoiding the high-priced breakfasts at many hotels.

So I found myself shopping for orange juice in Austria, with a number of choices at hand, but none recognizable to me.  Skeptics of capitalism often point to branding and brand-based advertising as particular wastes of resources.  But I would have loved to see an orange juice brand I recognized.  Brands are essentially a guarantee of  predictability -- whether I like the taste or not, I know what a Big Mac will taste like in Omaha or Beijing.  Brands are an enormous aid to shopping and making choices, and in this manner create real value for us as consumers.  I missed recognizable brands when I was in Europe.

PS-  Coca-Cola and Pepsi are obviously the exceptions to this predictability game.  Diet Coke, called Coke Light in Europe, tastes entirely different in Europe than it does in the US -- in fact it tastes more like what Diet Pepsi tastes like in the US.  Which is ironic, and fitting I guess, because Diet Pepsi in Europe tastes a lot like American Diet Coke.


  1. STW:

    One of my daughters, living in Brussels, says a great thing about the grocery store near her is that it has a machine that squeezes fresh orange juice to order. "It's the best thing ever!" She's gradually figuring out various brands but sometimes relies on friends with access to an American PX.

  2. Pat Moffitt:

    Doubtful, if blindfolded, you could distinguish between Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. We conducted this blindfold test with a group of people and most couldn't distinguish between regular and diet, Pepsi from Coke or differentiate colas from sprite. Try it the next time you have a group of people together. It may surprise you.

  3. Michael Stack:

    I had precisely the same reaction shopping at Italian grocery stores. Since I didn't know any of the brands, it really made me realize to what a large extent I rely on that information to help me shop.

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    There is a difference between being able to identify which is which by taste and saying they taste the same. Proving that people lack skill in identifying brand name soda's by taste does nothing to prove that they taste the same.

  5. Canvasback:

    Wait a minute. Trying new things is part of the fun of travel. Sure, you'll drop a few bucks on some bad experiences. But in the long run you learn to roll with it. You're not going to starve in Austria. Coca Cola, Mcdonalds, Pffft.

  6. sch:

    We were shopping for OJ in Cornwall in 2012 and found something called orange splash, also had peach splash. Not reading the directions we drank straight out of bottle, was horrible. Reading label discovered directions: dilute 9:1 before use. Tasted like OJ
    when diluted. The peach stuff was only 4:1, but was good too. Both were real juice IIRC.

  7. Q46:

    You very likely had, in some cases, the same things you get in the USA but with a different name. Brand names notoriously do not travel well, often mean something entirely different in different Countries, or unpronounceable, or may conflict with existing brands names and trademarks, or simply made under licence using the licencee's house brand.

    Food/drink items often have different recipes in Europe because of local taste (less sweet), plus the idiotic regulatory climate whereby additives banned in Europe are approved by the FDA and vice versa.

    For example: Lay's chips in the UK are called Walkers crisps, Twix is known as Raiders in Germany, McDonald's Quarter Pounder is known as Royale with Cheese in France, Axe grooming products are known as Lynx in Europe.

    In Australia Durex is a brand of adhesive tape... mind how you go.

  8. me:

    Unfortunately untrue - just try the same brand of beer in Europe and the US and you'll discover the unfortunate impact of import laws on flavour. Another counterexample is the vast quality disparity between the same Volkswagen models built in Germany vs Mexico.

  9. Mike Powers:

    It's not really surprising that Diet Coke and Coke Light taste different. If you're familiar with the history of New Coke, you'd understand why.

  10. marque2:

    They say Europeans like less sweet, but that Swiss and German chocolate, and candy is much sweeter than you would get in the US. For a US demo. Get a Toblerone bar, and then eat a Hershey bar. Tell me the American bar taste is for sweeter. I think that is a myth created by Europeans who think we like sweet, because we occasionally eat sweet things for breakfast (doughnuts and danish)

  11. Pat Moffitt:

    I never said the sodas taste the same but that they could not be identified…what was interesting in the small sample set was people had great difficulty identifying the soda they drank most often

  12. Matthew Slyfield:

    It's well known that most of taste is actually smell, my theory on blind taste tests done the way you suggest and not simply removing branding information from the visual sphere of the taster is that visual cues also affect perception of "taste".

  13. Earl Wertheimer:

    The principal ingredient of any soda is local water and that varies hugely. All soda manufacturers have to 'tweak' their recipes to try to compensate.

  14. Arrian:

    I've done that with wines, and the results varied greatly with experience. I couldn't tell a zinfandel from a pinot noir, but the wine geeks in the group were pegging varietal and even region about 80% of the time.

    Blind tasting isn't 100% accurate, but it's not impossible to tell Coke from Sprite, either.

  15. Daublin:

    On the cereal isle while living abroad, I tried everything and was disappointed to realize that Kellog stuff is not just more recognizable, but also just better. This is subjective to some extent, but the difference seemed large to me. Packaging that is easier to open and reclose, content that is correctly formed and doesn't have that much rubble in the bottom, and FWIW vastly better artwork on the container.

    Big corporate brands often get booed as being bland, but we shouldn't overstate the case. Before a brand really takes off, it has to pass a market test where huge numbers of people actually like what it represents.

  16. John:

    Why would you travel if all you are looking for is what you had at home?