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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 19, 2015

Marketing Placebo Effects – From Behavioral Effects to Behavior Change?

Laura Enax and Bernd Weber


Food decisions occur very frequently and are influenced by a variety of individual as well as contextual factors. Physical product attributes, including for example, caloric density, water content and sweetness are important drivers of food choice and preferences. However, food products are usually not evaluated solely based on their nutritional content. In addition, most products are packaged and carry abstract attributes, such as quality claims, and brand names. Critically, these product attributes, not products attributes also influence food consumption, reported consumption enjoyment, and product demand. A variety of these marketing actions were shown to alter consumption experiences of otherwise identical products, inducing a so-called marketing placebo effect (MPE). Here, we review studies providing insights into the various behavioral and neural processes underlying the response to these contextual marketing cues. An extensive amount of studies has shown impressive, sometimes peculiar and also disquieting effects of branding, logos, labels and prices on behavioral measures. We will illustrate the plethora of affected behaviors, ranging from increased taste pleasantness ratings for higher-priced wines to enhanced cognitive performance after drinking a higher-priced energy drink, compared to the identical lower-priced counterparts. Credence attributes, such as organic or social sustainability labels, have been gaining relevance in many industrialized countries, and influence product demand and consumption experience. We will therefore introduce studies that systematically investigated the effects of credence claims, elucidate possible mechanisms, and emphasize the negative consequences when misusing such claims. As children are an important and vulnerable target group for marketing actions, we will also specifically present studies conducted in children. These studies highlight the influence of marketing actions on children’s taste perception, product demand, and effort to obtain a certain product. We will shortly introduce the neurobiology of food choices, and present suggested processes underlying MPEs. Converging evidence confirms that MPEs are not a mere result of demand effects, but that they influence the neural responses to products down to a primary somatosensory level. We will show that marketing claims are very effective in influencing expectations and subsequent consumption experience. Therefore, we suggest that public policy interventions may build upon MPE research, and we will provide evidence for this supposition. Throughout this review, we present insights from a variety of different disciplines, including marketing, psychology, neuroscience and nutrition science. Albeit far from exhaustive, this non-systematic review aims at providing a joint perspective from various fields, highlighting that future research endeavor is certainly auspicious.


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Published Online: 2015-11-19
Published in Print: 2015-1-1

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