NEW YORK: The brand loyalty of beer drinkers has little to do with product taste and everything to do with how their preferred tipple is promoted according to new research.

The American Association of Wine Economists diverted from its more usual investigations into wines to carry out a simple "triangle test", asking 138 volunteers to blind-taste three beer samples, two of which were the same, and to identify the odd one.

The testers chose three widely available mass-market European lagers – Budvar (Czechvar in the US), Heineken and Stella Artois – and found that drinkers were unable to distinguish between them. Overall, the results showed little difference from random guesses: if the subjects could not choose the singleton at a rate above chance (33%) then the inference was that there was no perceived difference between the three samples.

"Brand loyalty in this market is likely to be driven largely by marketing and packaging, and not by the underlying sensory properties of the competing products," the testers concluded.

The report authors noted the huge amounts spent on advertising – more than $1bn each annually by Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller – and described beer brands as "identity brands", where consumers associated themselves with factors such as the brand image projected in advertisements, packaging aesthetics, the social influence of peers and, in the case of the European lagers, the country of origin.

In a normal drinking environment, brand cues help to "shape the sensory experience of consumption on a fundamental level", the authors stated.

"I think basically what we're looking at is a commodity industry – the products are interchangeable," Robin Goldstein, co-author of the study, Hide the Label, Hide the Difference, said in remarks reported by The Drum.

"They have a good product, a good manufacturing method and it can be sold at a good price. So if you're in a bar and they don't have the lager you usually drink, have another one. They will taste pretty much the same."

Data sourced from AAWE, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff