Placebo Marketing – It Works!

Placebo is a term most of us relate with medical science. So you may be wondering, why are we using this medical term in a marketing context? Good catch and we have an answer.

Researchers are currently conducting studies that may just validate what marketers have suspected for decades – the power of branding does influence consumers’ beliefs, behaviors and actions. In fact, products that people perceive as being “quality” in terms of label, appearance and in some cases, craftsmanship, not only influence how valuable certain products are to consumers, but it may also influence how well they physically perform.

Better Brand Equals Better Performance?

Researchers from my alma mater, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzed whether people’s visual and auditory and performances improved with the use of “prestigious,” “quality brands.” Two groups were asked to read a list of unrelated words while sitting in front of an aluminum lamp. They were tested for speed and accuracy in identifying the words. One group was given a pair of Ray-Bans, a well-known, fashionable brand of sunglasses. The other group was given a pair of Mango glasses, an unknown brand. Both pairs of glasses have proved effective in helping to block the glare of light. In fact, they’re the exact same sunglasses, with one major difference: they don’t have the same label.  Researchers discovered that simply because the glasses carried a specific brand name, members of the Ray-Ban test group identified more words correctly than the group with Mango glasses. This group even identified the words in a faster time than the Mango group!

The same was true when researchers gave the groups an auditory test. Subjects were given earmuffs that were designed to filter out background noise, but allowed wearers to hear spoken words more clearly. Wearers of the earmuffs that were labeled, 3Ms, a well-known and respected brand, were able to hear more words correctly than those who wore the exact same earmuffs, but were labeled, Etkes, an unknown brand.

Every marketing professional has always known that pricing, perception and image are essential to any product or service’s success. But now, thanks to studies like this one, we have the proof that, not merely perceptual, but actual physiological placebo-effects are achieved through strong branding. Based on fascinating studies like this, can anyone deny the power and impact of well-established brands?


SOURCE: Brand Names Act Like Marketing Placebos by Moty Amar, Dan Ariely, Maya Bar-Hillel, Ziv Carmon and Chezy Ofir; Discussion Paper # 566 Feb 2011; Center for the Study of Rationality, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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