Cognitive dissonance; a storm in a teacup?

February 28, 2020 | By Claudia Wright
Cognitive dissonance; a storm in a teacup?

We all have a favourite brand – maybe it’s a reliable make of car that you’ve bought for years, a high-quality beauty product you couldn’t live without or even your favourite hot beverage. But what happens if someone else’s favourite choice overlaps with our own? Even worse, if that person is someone you don’t like, what happens then?

I started thinking about this when I stumbled across a Twitter thread where Chancellor Rishi Sunak tweeted a photo of some Yorkshire Tea with the caption “Nothing like a good Yorkshire brew”. What followed was a flurry of very angry Yorkshire Tea fans furious at the idea that a member of the Conservative party could also be a fan of their favourite cuppa. In true cancel culture fashion (see my previous blog), people responded to the photo with all sorts of accusations and boycott tweets, with hundreds of Yorkshire Tea-lovers claiming that they’d never buy the brew again. 

In an attempt to calm the masses, Yorkshire Tea responded by saying “It’s nothing to do with us – people of all political stripes like our brew.” before light-heartedly adding, “There’s no way we’d intentionally stick ourselves in a Twitter storm on a Friday afternoon. It’s nearly hometime!”. That’s true, no-one wants to spend their Friday evening explaining to hundreds of people that they didn’t pay a member of the government to flog their tea.

It sounds trivial, but this storm in a teacup did make me question how I would feel if I found out that someone with different values to me shared my love of my favourite products. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t taint my feelings about the brand and that I’d continue to love it regardless. Who knows, maybe it would have an effect. But why is that? Is it the fear that me and someone I strongly disagree with might have shared values and if that’s the case, am I more like that person than I thought?

What actually happens is that it puts the consumer in a state of Cognitive Dissonance – a psychological phenomenon that occurs when you have two contradictory beliefs. A popular example of it would be knowing that smoking is harmful but still continuing to smoke. In the case of Yorkshire Tea, when people who vote left-wing found out that their treasured tea brand was also a favourite of a member of the biggest right-wing party in the UK, there was suddenly a sense of internal conflict. And what do we do when there’s conflict? ‘Fight or Flight’ kicks in. This one tweet triggered hundreds of people’s natural fight response quicker than you could say “want a cuppa?” – which then left the Social Media Manager of Yorkshire Tea faced with a number of nasty tweets to deal with on a Friday afternoon. Not ideal.

In these situations it’s worth remembering that if you’re a fan of a product it’s because it’s probably been engineered that way and chances are a lot of other people will love it too – not all of which you’ll like. Yorkshire Tea is one of the UK’s most popular tea brands for a reason –  they sell a great product! So it’s naive to assume that you’re the only person who’ll enjoy it. The lesson here is don’t fight, and certainly don’t take flight from your favourite brand. Everyone is entitled to make their own choices and one person’s choice of brand doesn’t label you as sharing the same beliefs if you happen to reach for the same product on a supermarket shelf.

Luckily the whole ordeal has meant that wise old Yorkshire Tea has taught us a lesson and the brand has since spoken out and said, “For anyone about to vent their rage online, even to a company – try to be kind.”

Another British staple, PG tips, even responded saying “From one social media manager to another, DM if you fancy a cuppa 💚” – two of the UK’s favourite tea brands coming together? You love to see it. 

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