Every morning, on auto-pilot, you find yourself driving a couple of blocks out of your way to go to Dunn Bros. for your coffee, even though Caribou is half as far away in the other direction. Or maybe you need some hardware and plywood, and you drive a mile farther down the road to get to Menard's, passing Home Depot on the way.

We like to think of ourselves as pretty savvy about spotting how advertisers woo us to buy a particular product, drink a certain beer or frequent one store over another although they sell virtually the same stock. But what do the choices we make say about us?

We don't always know why we choose the brands, stores and activities that we do. We just do things as we always have, following that first impulse again and again. But people who are paid to know why -- people with titles like "director of brand anthropology" -- can tell you some things that may surprise you. Or at least amuse you.

We asked several local advertising experts what our choices reveal about our personalities, motivations and quirks. We also asked them to leave the black-box marketing theories and quantified data on the shelf, to just shoot from the hip. They gave us an earful, we skimmed the cream, and now we pass it on to you, the consumer.

Home Depot or Menards?

Lynn Franz, Campbell Mithun: Selecting Home Depot says, "If you give me 2 hours and Google access, I can fix your toilet." Selecting Menards says, "In 5 minutes I can fix your toilet and blinking bathroom light with one hand and my eyes closed."

Sam's Club or Costco?

Michelle Chester, Periscope: Sam's Club shopper: Mother Hubbard. Large families that actually need to shop at Sam's Club because they just have that many mouths to feed. Costco shopper: Stanley Hubbard. More affluent shoppers who love "deals" and can somehow justify buying a bag of spinach as large as their adorable 6-month-old.

Coke or Pepsi?

Colle + McVoy staff: Coke says you appreciate classic, traditional brands that stay true to who they are. Pepsi says you're OK with veering from the expected ... especially if it's on sale.

Summit or Grain Belt?

Erin Tait, Olson: Summit says, "I designed my deck." Grain Belt says, "I built my deck."

(Tie) Franz: Selecting Summit says, 'On Facebook, I post pictures from my great vacations,' whereas selecting Grain Belt says, 'On Facebook, I post pictures that might get me into trouble with an employer one day."

Wal-Mart or Target?

Colle + McVoy: The Wal-mart shopper is there for the low prices and probably stays on their budget a bit more. The Target shopper goes in for toothpaste and spends $100, coming home with a vintage knock-off Ms. Pac Man T-shirt, a $4 greeting card, a necklace, a Jonathan Adler picture frame and some new Archer Farms organic fruit snacks.

Golfing or fishing?

Tait: Golfing says, "I'm plugged in." Fishing says, "I'm unplugged."

Calhoun or Harriet?

Colle + McVoy: Calhoun if you are fully embracing the scene. Harriet if you are wearing your worn, faded running pants and don't want to run by someone you went on a Match.com date with two years ago.

Lee or Levi's?

Franz: Lee says, "I can show off my assets as well as Kenny Chesney." Levi's says, "You can't beat a classic."

Wolves or Wild?

Doug Spong, Carmichael Lynch Spong: Timberwolves fans are more urban males ... more likely to hold professional positions and enjoy entertaining clients and friends at games. Wild fans are more suburban and rural ... more likely to attend games with their wives or girlfriends. In addition to hockey games, they enjoy hunting and fishing as leisure activities vs. Timberwolves fans who enjoy picking up women at bars and working out at a health club.

Uptown or downtown nightlife?

Chester: In Uptown, the probability of running into a bachelorette party is 3-1 in the summer months. In downtown, the probability of running into a bachelorette party is 15-1 in the summer months, and chances are that at least two of those brides will be found by the post-theater couples sitting on the sidewalk, wondering where they are, how they got there and why they suddenly don't feel so good.

Mancini's or St. Paul Grill?

Chester: Mancini's is for people who crave a dose of tradition ... like the people who live in Minneapolis and go to Jax Café but don't like driving to St. Paul because they don't understand the streets. St. Paul Grill is refined, pretentious (in a good way) ... for those who want to talk business or impress a client. If you can write it off, you might be a regular. If you have to write a check, it's either your birthday or your anniversary.

Red wine or white wine?

Franz: Red wine says, "My dreams involve large, stinky cheeses chasing me into the dark woods," whereas white wine says, "I dream of butterflies and sunsets."

Cub or Rainbow?

Chester: Cub is a predictably satisfying shopping experience for people who appreciate reliability, consistency, quality and common sense. Rainbow is like the Russian roulette of grocery stores, so these tend to be people who view shopping as a necessary evil in their lives and don't mind that the product quality and shopping experience can vary from store to store or day of the week.

Hanes or Fruit of the Loom?

Spong: Hanes appeals slightly more to a younger, fit male who is physically active and wears tighter pants and jeans. Fruit of the Loom loyalists are less concerned about their body weight and shape, and tend to wear looser-fitting clothes.

Chicken or beef?

Franz: Selecting chicken says, "I like the other, no, the other, white meat," whereas selecting beef says, "Beef."

Caribou or Dunn Bros.?

Tait: Dunn Bros says, "independent thinker." Caribou says, "Indulge me."

Coffee or tea?

Tait: Coffee says, "I have an opinion." Tea says, "I have a soul."

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046 Bill Ward • 612-673-7643