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Companies Must Act Responsibly When Using the Power of Suggestion

11/19/2014 12:44 EST | Updated 01/19/2015 05:59 EST
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Close up of woman's hand putting card in suggestion box

When we are told over and over again to expect a result from a product or an action, chances are we eventually believe or even expect the outcome. Especially if we hear of a solution to a problem we've been looking to solve.

This is the power of suggestion.

Eat your veggies so you grow up big and strong. Put on a hat so you don't catch a cold!

Many of us are familiar with these phrases because mom always used them. And, because mom always knows best, we listened! Want to prevent a communicable disease? Wear your hat! Want big arms like Popeye? Eat your spinach!

We're influenced by the suggestion provided to us by people we trust. It should come as no surprise, then, that it's a long-used marketing tool.

Even if the advice is offered by a friend or family member, the idea likely originates from something we saw, heard, or read in the media. Consumers are always looking to corporations to guide them in the right direction about what to eat, what to wear, what entertainment is best, and so on.

Suggestion fuels consumerism!

Since trust plays a big factor in listening to what we're being told, corporations have the responsibility to provide messages that are both accurate and in the best interests of their audiences. Time and time again, however, we see the power of suggestion being used in a misguided and sometimes even destructive way.

The fashion world, for example, has long been scrutinized for its portrayal of what the human body should look like. Armani is notorious for using very thin models in its fashion shows and advertisements, Abercrombie and Fitch landed in hot water last year when CEO, Mike Jeffries, stated that " We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends," and retailers like Brandy Melville won't sell clothing past a size medium. The smaller your body type, the more beautiful you are is what's suggested by many big-name designers and retailers. Of course, fashion is a diverse business and not all messages are cut from the same cloth, but when Old Navy is caught charging more for plus-sizes, one wonders about the underlying hint.

On the flip side, the power of suggestion can influence our mindsets in a positive way. Take this experiment done some CPG companies in skin care category meant to inspire and change self perception.

Gluten-free products may very well be the result of a "placebo effect" as well.

Sharing the results of his 2010 study, Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the GI Unit at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia concluded that gluten can cause gastrointestinal symptoms in people without celiac disease. Upon hearing this news anyone who didn't have the digestive and autoimmune disorder but who had gastrointestinal issues breathed a sigh of relief and went on a hunt for gluten-free products. Corporations caught wind of these results, saw the demand, and jumped on the bandwagon. The fastest growing food intolerance category in North America began.

Gluten-free diet books, tailored restaurant menus, and grocery store aisles are now more popular than ever, but what if we're buying into a suggestion that wasn't accurate to begin with? What if those who swear that a gluten-free diet has freed them from abdominal cramping, bloating and skin irritations were simply under the influence of mere suggestion?

You see, the very man who brought us the gluten-free craze retracted his original conclusions stating, "In contrast to our first study... we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten." The positive results from cutting out gluten could be strictly psychological. It could also be an intolerance to something else called FODMAPS -- a group of small carbohydrate molecules that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine. FODMAP-free products might just be the next big thing. Who knows?

When it comes to the power of suggestion, especially in marketing and PR, one thing's for certain -- a message that comes from a reliable and honest place combined with need for a solution is a powerful thing. Being transparent about the solution is the key to ensuring it creates long-term brand loyalty and trust.