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More from Seth Godin on placebos and marketing

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We’ve published his work here before, but it’s time for some more truisms on the placebo effect from marketing guru Seth Godin, one of the godfathers of ‘viral marketing’ (in Crucial Elements for the placebo effect). Seth’s really into placebos!

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Placebos, used ethically, are powerful tools. They can cure diseases, make food taste better and dramatically increase the perceived quality of art. They can improve the way teachers teach, students learn and we judge our own safety.

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They do best when they improve something that is difficult to measure objectively.

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Argue all you want about whether or not you want to be buying or selling placebos, but it’s quite likely that the right placebo with the right story can dramatically increase certain outcomes.

If you want to improve performance, the right placebo is often the safest and cheapest way to do so. The opportunity is to find one that’s likely to work, and to market it in a way that’s ethical and effective.

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If you like Seth’s style, he has another blog post on the placebo effect in marketing here (Marketing of the placebo: Everyone gets their own belief) and a whole downloadable essay/course here (Placebos) which contains some keen – and entertaining! – thinking on the placebo effect as it relates to marketing (which to Godin, is critical to more in our lives than we imagine!)

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Facing a long plane trip with a nasty cold, I headed over to the health food store.

“Excuse me, do you have any placebos? I have a really horrible cold… I’ll take the strongest one you’ve got.”

She looked at me with pity. “A placebo?”

“Yes, please.”

“Do you know which company makes that? I don’t think we have any placebos?”

I waited for a second, thinking hard about what was happening.

“Hey Sylvia,” she yelled, “there’s a guy out here who wants some placebo, but he doesn’t know who makes it. Do we carry that?”

Sylvia didn’t know.

The placebo effect in marketing

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Online marketing guru Seth Godin talks openly here about the placebo effect and its relation to modern marketing. He says that, “(As marketers) … we don’t like to admit that we tell stories, that we’re in the placebo business. Instead, we tell ourselves about features and benefits as a way to rationalize our desire to to help our customers by allowing them to lie to themselves.

The design of your blog or your package or your outfit is nothing but an affect designed to create the placebo effect. … It’s all storytelling, it’s all lies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, your marketplace insists on it.”