In the 1970s and 1980s, television advertising was very preoccupied with coercing consumers using the blind taste test. Given the choice between two popular products, the test—which required viewers to take a leap of faith and trust the ad was being upfront with them—usually demonstrated that the competitor’s product was inferior swill. Take a look at some of the most memorable examples.
The gold standard of blind taste test commercials, the Pepsi Challenge tasked consumers with sipping a soft drink marked M (Pepsi) and then one marked Q (Coca-Cola). The spots, which started in Texas in 1975 and eventually went national, asserted that Pepsi was the clear favorite among testers. Coca-Cola retorted by conducting their own experiment, filling both glasses with Coke but labeling them M and Q. More people picked M, suggesting the test might have been more arbitrary than Pepsi hoped.
In the 1970s, Jif peanut butter began accosting supermarket shoppers and shoving unlabeled jars in front of their faces. After sampling each, the shoppers appeared to favor Jif, leading to the popular ad campaign “Choosy Moms Choose Jif.”
Of course, other taste tests could provide different results. In 1980, a Universal Press Syndicate writer named Judy Hill asked 10 people to sample Jif, Skippy, and Peter Pan, and choose the one that tasted most like fresh peanuts. Five of them chose Skippy, three picked Jif, and two opted for Peter Pan. (At least none of them voiced a preference for Jiffy, a non-existent brand that’s an example of the Mandela Effect.)
In 1977, Blatz Beer charged beer enthusiasts in Milwaukee with sampling their brew and comparing it to Miller Lite. In the above video, a woman named Cindy expresses dismay that she’s betrayed Miller Lite. Her interrogator presses her. “What’s the matter, Cindy?” he asks. After admitting she prefers Blatz, he doesn’t let up: “What are you going to do now, Cindy?” Blatz came out on top, which the company dined out on for years.
Could you tell the difference between supermarket ice cream and ice cream parlor ice cream? That was the challenge given to consumers by Sealtest, a brand that spent several years in the 1970s pitting their ice cream against the frozen confections of ice cream shops. (The brand disappeared after parent company Kraft sold off their ice cream division to Unilever in 1993.)
When it comes to boxed pasta with powdered cheese, few would argue against Kraft being the top dog. To put a stamp on their market domination, the company conducted a taste test circa 1981 where 200 precocious children were asked to name their favorite bowl between Kraft and a “no-name” brand. The tykes overwhelmingly chose Kraft.
Folgers loved to dupe unsuspecting consumers into thinking their freeze-dried instant coffee was as good as fresh-brewed. They even ventured to classy Tavern on the Green in the 1980s to prove it. Minds were demonstrably blown.
One of the earliest examples of a blind taste test spot came courtesy of Sanka in the 1960s, which purported to stop passersby and ask them their opinion of the unmarked coffee shoved into their hands. The sippers were surprised to learn it was the (mostly) decaffeinated Sanka. The company duplicated the spot circa 1989, though that one didn’t land as well. After an investigation by the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation office, General Foods USA, the makers of Sanka, admitted the spot was staged with actors. The company added a “dramatization” label to the ad.
What do you do when your product spokesperson is a cartoon elf? Hold the taste test off-camera. That was the strategy employed by Keebler, which promoted their Wheatables snack cracker as being favored over Wheat Thins by a margin of two to one.
In the early 1980s, Ruffles went chip-to-chip against popular Canadian brand Hostess Chips and declared themselves the victors. Although the spot appears limited to a sample size of one, Ruffles claimed the taste tests were conducted with hundreds of people and that Ruffles were preferred by “almost two out of three people tested.” This could mean one out of three, but all right.
In another battle of the beers, Schlitz maintained that their beer came out on top over Budweiser in an ad spot from 1981. “I thought Bud was better, but I’ve been proved wrong,” one sheepish imbiber admitted. Schlitz was so confident they had a superior mug that they conducted what may have been television’s first live taste test during halftime of an AFC playoff football game in January 1981. Of the 100 people who declared themselves Bud loyalists and tested both beers, 46 of them preferred Schlitz.
It’s hard to imagine Heinz ketchup being toppled by anyone, but Hunt’s gave it a go in 1989, when they pitted their condiment against the 57 varieties of the ketchup industry’s looming giant. A nationwide test demonstrated Hunt’s was the preferred brand. Heinz fired back with a claim that, if you put leading ketchup brands like Hunt’s and Del Monte in a strainer, only Heinz would remain firm and not drip. It was a testament to the ketchup’s thickness, though most people probably don’t run their ketchup supply through a strainer.