Dutch company, The Gift Label, have produced a range of soap and lotions, with labels on featuring phrases such as ‘You Look Damn Good’. Is this just cute marketing, or could there be something more to it? Could it be an example of everyday placebos?I don’t know if you remember Dove’s great viral marketing campaign, about beauty patches? Women were given patches to wear, and they were told that they would make them more beautiful. The women record video diaries, to let the researchers know how their self-image is changing, then at the end, it’s revealed to all of them, that the patches are placebos and that they’ve always been as beautiful with the patches as without.

It’s unlikely that the placebo patches, caused any physical changes to the women to make them more beautiful, but it is possible that they may have caused more ‘feel-good’ chemicals to be released in the brain, causing them to have a more positive outlook. Some of the strongest placebo effects are observed in the treatment of mental health problems, but perhaps we could all do, with improving our own self-image and perhaps placebos could help us achieve that. Maybe, we should all have more of these everyday placebos in our lives.

To return again to the positive hand soap from The Gift Label, writing a label with such an overt positive message is mildly pleasing. We are surrounded by similar messages in adverts for a huge range of products: ‘this shampoo will make your hair more soft and shiny’, ‘this protein shake will give you bigger muscles’ and ‘this laptop will make you smarter’. But we don’t make the same overt and confident claims of medications. Rightly so, doctors are considered more honest than marketing executives, but maybe we should start thinking more seriously about how we can positively present medications. Over-the-counter medications have been doing this for years, with measurable effects. People often respond better to branded paracetamol than the generic version. But prescription medications rarely do the same. I imagine, that this is because it’s a doctor’s choice to give a medication or not, but maybe big-pharma are missing a trick. Maybe making more positive and encouraging packaging could produce stronger effects in those who take it. If branded medications were genuinely more effective (had a stronger placebo effect component), perhaps more people would choose to take them and more doctor’s would choose to prescribe them.

Whether it’s hand soap, a new lotion or a medication, maybe manufacturers should all be helping us to make the most of the products they sell us by embracing the placebo effect.

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