How an Expensive Suit Can Make You Better at Your Job

You feel better about yourself, and your talents, when you slap on some brand names.

Street Style - London Collections: MEN SS16 - June 12 To June 15, 2015
Photographer: Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

I’m a big believer in staying unbranded; I'm about as likely to to wear a logo as a disco suit. Even my smartphone and laptop have logo-covering cases.

Well, according to new research, I could be missing out. A recent study conducted by researchers at Notre Dame, the University of Kentucky, and Penn State found that using brand-name gear can provide a noticeable placebo effect that could boost performance. In other words: If you’ve ever felt like you give better presentation when wearing an expensive designer suit, it might not be your imagination.

In the study, researchers found that simply being told you were using a Nike golf putter over a no-name club improved participants’ performance by about 20 percent. And this effect isn’t limited to the physical: The researchers also found that subjects who wore earplugs while taking a math quiz did better when they were told they were using high-performance 3M earplugs. The performance bump for this part of the study was also about 20 percent.

“Some people have a power suit that they put on for important presentations, or they have some special cufflink that they put on to bring them luck,” said Frank Germann, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business who worked on the study. “I think our research would suggest that engaging in that kind of behavior might actually work.”

Germann and his collaborators—Aaron Garvey of the University of Kentucky and Lisa Bolton of Penn State University—say that brands have the ability to boost users’ confidence and lower performance anxiety. “When you think that you have this performance brand, you have higher-state self-esteem,” Germann says. “As a result, you feel better and your self-confidence is elevated at a certain task. In turn, you're less anxious, and because of that, you're performing better.”

This isn’t the first study to suggest workers and their bosses can lean on marketing buzz to boost their performance. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers at Duke University and the University of Waterloo found that exposure to logos can actually cause people to take on traits they might associate with a brand’s corporate identity. For example, test subjects who were asked to complete a task did so with more creativity when exposed to Apple branding—what with its years of “Think Different” marketing—over an IBM logo. Likewise, the study found that exposure to a Disney Channel logo caused participants to behave with more honesty than those who saw one from E! Entertainment.

Similar results were found in a 2011 Boston College study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. The study found that exposure to a Red Bull logo primed test subjects to act more, well, extreme. Participants took control of a driving simulator that featured a logo-splashed vehicle. Those who drove a virtual Red Bull vehicle did so with more speed, power, and risk-taking behaviors than those piloting a Coca-Cola, Tropicana, or Guinness car.

Bottom line: The placebo effect is real. And just as a sugar pill may magically make your headache go away, surrounding yourself with brands that have positive connotations may actually boost your performance and creativity.

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