In this context, the placebo effect is a metaphor for the story or the ‘show’ that you make around your work that isn’t necessary, but makes it better.
The question is this: does something that makes people think your product or service is better (or more fun, or tastier) actually make it better? If what you’re doing is ethical – and it’s helping people get what they want and need – I think the answer is yes.
Here’s Seth Godin on a recent episode of the excellent Cool Tools podcast with Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder.
Kevin Kelly: I’m not an audiophile by any measure… but I understand that there’s sort of a level of highfalutin B.S. in parts of this realm [of high fidelity audio)… How do you know that this is not part of [that]?
Seth Godin: There’s a technical term for “highfalutin B.S.”, and the tecnhical term is “the placebo effect.” And the placebo effect is your greatest bargain. There are no side-effects, you can’t overdose, it works great every time. Is there a placebo effect in stereo equipment? There’s no doubt about it. But if for $400 you can buy something that for the next 4000 hours of listening makes you think your stereo sounds better, that seems like a bargain to me.Seth Godin and Kevin Kelly – Cool Tools Podcast, Ep.196
Seth has written a lot about the placebo effect:
… and many more posts here.