Branding Research Shows Placebo Effect on Consumers

Aaron Garvey, an assistant professor of marketing in the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics, conducts research on consumer behavior. He looks at the psychology of how consumers act, think and feel. The curiosity that prompted his first research project—testing an equation for trajectory—is the same thing that drives him today. “I've always liked hearing other people’s ideas, developing my own ideas, but ultimately, I want to see it proven for myself. I want to see it tested. I want to know if it’s real,” he said.

Before working in academia, Garvey worked in product marketing and would test prototype products with consumers. Some of these industry experiences inspired his later research. “I was just amazed that you could change what price you were going to launch a product at, and you could change what brand it was, and people would have dramatically different impressions of that product. And they would tell you incredibly different things about the product: they thought it was made of different materials, they thought it weighed more or it weighed less. Really out-there stuff that, at the time, we joked about but we couldn’t explain.”

His research deals with branded and conspicuous product consumption and consumer decision making, and he just published a paper showing how brands can have placebo effects on consumers. In one example, consumers who believed that a branded product would improve their athletic performance did, measurably, perform better.