Maximising The Placebo Effect in Marketing

By  •  Updated: 03/01/23 •  3 min read

A few years ago, the Australian federal court stopped Reckitt Benckiser from selling Nurofen varieties for back pain, period pain, migraine pain and tension headaches.

Reckitt Benckiser admitted the products were all the same, apart from the packaging.

The only difference was that the painkiller was sold in different coloured packets, and at almost twice the price of Nurofen’s standard ibuprofen product.

Boo hiss to Big Pharma, right?


The drug administrators think they’re regulating chemicals, but what they really did was ban a far more powerful, and safe, painkiller.

The human mind.

You’ve probably heard of the placebo effect, where patients get relief from symptoms even when the pills they’re taking have nothing but sugar in them.

Scientists think their job is to eliminate this effect from drug trials, but the drug companies do the opposite. They want it as big as possible so the drugs work better.

Here’s a few things we know about it:

Colour has an effect. Red drugs are more effective stimulants, yellow make for better antidepressants, green reduces anxiety, blue makes for a good sedative and white soothes pain.

Price matters. Patients with Parkinson’s disease had twice the effect from a “fake” drug when they were told it was 15x more expensive than a “standard” medicine.

Specificity matters. Just being told what a placebo will do affects how effective it is, and knowing that pain is coming makes us more able to cure it with a placebo.

You know what pain a patient knows is coming? Period pains, and chronic pain they’ve had for a while. Exactly what these variants targeted.

Placebos can be up to half as effective as painkillers, even when we know we’re taking a placebo.

So, if we’re happy to be conned, because the con works, is it still a con?

We can use these effects in our own marketing.

For example, “designing” for a specific group.

I’ve run the exact same memory course for doctors, lawyers, and students and got better results than a generic course even though it’s the same material.

Hal Elrod took his “Miracle Morning” bestseller and spun it up for:

• Entrepreneurs
• Parents
• Network marketers
• Addicts

Same “active ingredient”, different packaging, different audience.

You can easily double prices for these variants, and just the act of pushing the price up will make it more effective.

If these tactics have real measurable effects on the outcomes your customers get, why wouldn’t you use them?

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.