The Placebo of Coffee


I finally got the chance to sit down and read (most of) Seth Godin’s latest ebook on placebos.

The basic premise of the book is that placebos work. Not only in medicine, but in marketing too.

In marketing, placebos are induced by stories. The right story can actually enhance our enjoyment of a product.

Seth uses of the example of the sommelier in a restaurant. You can buy a bottle of wine from the store for half the price you’ll pay in a restaurant. But the experience created by the sommelier is worth paying for. Same product, different experience.

I don’t drink wine. So I didn’t really get it. Until I brewed my afternoon cup of coffee.

I recently bought a subscription to The Roasters Pack — a monthly subscription service that delivers three coffees from different roasters every month.

The cup I brewed this afternoon was from a roaster I’d never heard of: Monigram Coffee Roasters in Cambridge, ON.

On the bag, there was a quote from the roaster that read:

“We get a very clean finish on this coffee. Just a gorgeous rich cup that changes its composition as it cools.”
— Graham Braun, Owner/Roaster

With just a few well-placed words, my cup of coffee was given a story.

I noticed the clean finish. The rich cup. The changing composition as it cooled. I could literally feel the placebo effect doing its work.

Before today, I didn’t know a thing about Monigram Coffee Roasters. I had no reason to be inclined toward the coffee.

And whether or not the cup actually was clean, rich, or anything else — that simple story was enough to kick in the placebo effect and dramatically improve its chances of making an impression on me.

Now I get it.