The educational placebo effect: branding higher education benefits student learning

Esteky S., Kalati S. H.

JOURNAL OF MARKETING FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, 2021 (Journal Indexed in SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/08841241.2021.1975186
  • Keywords: Branding, higher education, placebo effects, learning outcomes, MARKETING ACTIONS, UNIVERSITY


This research examines the effect of branding in higher education on students' learning outcomes. In three experiments, we show that identical educational material associated with strong (vs. weak or unknown) brand names can boost students' performance on various educational assessments. We find that this effect occurs via an expectancy mechanism. Study 1 demonstrates that playing an educational game framed as being developed by an institution with a strong brand improves students' concentration on a subsequent task. In Study 2, studying an educational course supposedly published by a strong brand is shown to improve performance on a memorization task. Study 3 finds that students value educational content more when they are told it is associated with a strong educational brand. This leads to improvements in students' performance on a numerical reasoning test. Together, these results document an important benefit of applying branding to higher education institutions.