Marketing is placebo

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.

The fortune of misattribution

There is a famous derogatory quote about the Swiss, and how their greatest accomplishment is merely inventing the cuckoo clock. Contrary to that quote, the Swiss have an illustrious list of inventions and discoveries to their credit. Also, they didn’t invent the cuckoo clock. It was invented in Southern Germany.

Misattribution is only too common. Several misquotes find their way to famous people. Inventions are falsely attributed to inventors and to nations. It is easy to pass off a cuckoo clock as a Swiss invention, because our ideas of the Swiss and cuckoo clocks are close enough to make this connection.

Our reputation precedes us, even if it isn’t true. Now that may not always be a good thing, but like the makers of Swiss cuckoo clocks, we could sometimes use that reputation to our advantage.