PROUST MEETS PAVLOV

For Brits, it isn’t about Cadbury’s. It’s about childhood.

Brands: We love them deeply, and sometimes hate them passionately, linking our emotional reaction to the thing itself, and forgetting that it is also a product of advertising and habit.

Taking away our freedom to choose certain brands—as happened recently with a ban on the sale of Cadbury’s chocolate in the US—can feel like an assault on freedom itself. After all, the desire to self-determine can be just as strong as the pull of the brand, in shopping for confectionary as in other walks of life.

But the fight between Hershey and Cadbury is also about something else, that’s both astonishingly simple and powerful. It’s about chocolate. And the key to understanding the furious arguments rolling across social media is this (imagine it in a British accent): It just tastes different.

The fact is, people love brands. They love freedom to choose. But most of all they love the chocolate they grew up with.

We were treated to a preview of this meltdown earlier this month. The chocolate egg hit the fan when it emerged that Cadbury itself had ceased using its beloved Dairy Milk chocolate to make Crème Eggs, thereby “ruining Easter”—a whole four months before that holiday even happened.

Of course, there are reasons for the difference in taste. American chocolate has more sugar, while the UK’s contains more milk. They each use different emulsifiers.

But it doesn’t really matter why. What matters is the taste.

Human children latch onto tastes early, and connect sensations of a specific taste to memory (most famously with Proust’s recollections of madeleines and limeflower tea). With foods we like—and especially with chocolate, a treat—the memories are of happiness.

The collective online howl against a company wielding its power unfairly is just the child’s fear that this connection with a simple, loved thing will be denied.

The people are right to be angry.

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