Dec 2019 (Vol. 59, Issue 4): SOCIAL-MEDIA MARKETING
Assessing Scientific Claims in Print Ads that Promote Cosmetics: How Consumers Perceive Cosmeceutical Claims
Here’s a study on a topic that has received little attention in the research community: scientific claims made in ads promoting cosmetics, and their effectiveness in terms of how consumers and doctors perceive them. One compelling aspect of this study is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “under whose authority the supervision of cosmetics safety falls, has not assumed a regulatory role regarding advertising-based cosmeceutical claims,” authors Jie G. Fowler (Valdosta State University), Les Carlson (University of Nebraska) and Himadri Roy Chaudhuri (Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, India), note in this article. “The FDA does not even acknowledge the existence of this product category.” According to a 2002 FDA report “the term cosmeceuticals has no meaning under the law.”
This means that cosmetics advertisers have little guidance as to the types and frequency of scientific claims they make in their ads, and how those claims will be perceived; in other words: how effective are these claims in driving consumers’ decisions toward purchase? Is the information conveyed in a form that is useful, or will these claims be perceived as misleading or deceptive?
To address these issues and questions, the authors identified 140 unique (nonduplicated) ads— all from 2015 in five fashion magazines— that depicted at least one cosmeceutical claim. They then developed a typology of cosmeceutical advertising claims and did a content analysis of them, and then another analysis using a misleading/deceptiveness typology. Afterward, they blended the two content analyses (drawing from methods from earlier research). This was done in an effort to pinpoint specific types of cosmeceutical claims that might be more susceptible to being deemed misleading/deceptive, versus whether consumers were receiving the form of information about the claims that they needed.
The study relied on classifications by actual consumers of cosmetics who served as nonexpert judges. The results based on those classifications were mirrored somewhat by the input of expert judges—actual medical practitioners. “Neither set of judges found the claims to be representative of lies and falsehoods,” the authors write. “Rather, claims that were deemed to be deficient or not acceptable by either group simply might need some additional clarifying information or testimony to make them meaningful enough to be useful decision-making aids for consumers.”
Among the takeaways:
- The copy for cosmetics advertising campaigns should be aligned with the target audience’s awareness of scientific-related terms presented in the print ads.
- Advertisers may need to augment or even avoid certain scientific-related terms, because such claims more likely will be perceived as misleading or deceptive by cosmetics consumers.
- Both typical cosmetics consumers and licensed physicians believe some forms of cosmetics claims do not aid consumer decision making.