I used to think of placebos as sugar pills, only relevant in the medical realm.
The key here is in the presentation. Merely giving a patient a spoonful of sugar doesn’t help, despite what Mary Poppins tells us. But turning them into pills and presenting them as medicine works wonders.
If presentation is the key, I then realized that the placebo effect could be extended to the performance of a seasoned somallier as they pour a drink in an elegant restaurant. Even cheap wine poured this way tastes better. The same applies to the wrapping of a chocolate bar. A bar wrapped in purple velvet is likely to taste better than the same chocolate wrapped in plastic.
Why do we have lavish, traditional weddings with a big feast and plenty of guests? What is a massive cathedral for, if it not to fill you with a sense of awe and wonder when you fold your hands in prayer? And when people wed in a cathedral, aren’t they merely combining these two effects?
A placebo is anything around an experience that gives us the attitude to appreciate it better. Placebos aren’t merely a means to deceive – they are stories that magically transform experiences ranging from injesting sugar pills to a wedding in a cathedral.
Marketing is the placebo that we wrap around an experience.