Just using brand name products can boost people’s performance

“High-performance” brands actually do make people better at performing tasks, new research finds

Man covered in Nike logos putting a golf ball

(Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

Brands that people perceive as “high performance” do actually help them excel at tasks, researchers have found. A joint study by the University of Notre Dame, University of Kentucky and Penn State University tested two sets of people on their golf performance; Half were told they were using a Nike putter; the other half were told no brand. All putters were identical, but those who thought they were using the Nike putter on average did better, needing fewer putts to sink the ball.

The researchers repeated their experiment with “3M” branded earplugs: they tested participants’ performance in a math test using a pair of foam ear plugs to minimize noise distractions. Again, participants received the same ear plugs, but those who thought theirs were made by 3M got significantly more questions right.

“Our results indicate that strong performance brands can cause an effect that is akin to a placebo effect,” researcher Frank Germann of the Department of Marketing at the University of Notre Dame said in a press release. “Our results also suggest that the use of a strong performance brand causes participants to feel better about themselves when undertaking a task—that is, to have greater task-specific self-esteem. This higher self-esteem lowers their performance anxiety which, in turn, leads to the better performance outcomes.”

The findings also show that novices benefit more from the performance brand placebo effect. “People who are inexperienced have more self-doubts and performance anxiety that the brand helps to alleviate,” Germann says, “whereas experts already have high task-specific self-esteem and low performance anxiety when undertaking the task.”

The lesson for brands is: play up your high-performance bona-fides—if you already have a strong positive perception with consumers. And the rest of us? We can justify paying full price for brand-name everything, from tennis rackets to pianos. Ferraris for everyone!