Has science-based marketing taken a pandemic hit?
Surveys show that trust in scientists took a hit during the pandemic and it may be impacting science-based marketing claims.
Recent research from John Costello, a marketing professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, along with researchers at Simon Fraser University and Ohio State University, explored how invoking science in the marketing of consumer products can backfire.
The research generally found science-based claims are effective when marketers try to sell the practicality of the product. When trying to sell based on sensory pleasure, consumers are less likely to buy it when it is described as developed using science.
“The reason this occurs is because people stereotype the scientific process as being competent but cold, similar to how they stereotype scientists,” said Prof. Costello in a press release. If consumers become aware that science is necessary in making the product, the backlash against the science claim doesn’t occur, according to the findings.
The research further found those who work in STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and math) don’t exhibit the “science backfire effect.” Researchers, however, also cited public polling concluding that a growing number of Americans have lower trust in science, suggesting that segmentation strategies may be beneficial for marketing managers.
“Our studies suggest that many consumers have mixed feelings about science in product development, despite the fact that societally, we increasingly rely on products produced by science,” Prof. Costello said. “As a result, marketers need to exercise caution when discussing the scientific process used to create products that consumers are buying for taste, enjoyment and other types of pleasure.”
Researchers assessed trust in scientists based on a Pew Research Center December 2021 survey that found only 29 percent of U.S. adults have a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the best interests of the public, down from 39 percent from a November 2020 survey.
Among party affiliations, 13 percent of Republicans were strongly confident in scientists versus 43 percent for Democrats, down from 22 percent and 53 percent, respectively, in the November 2020 survey. Across ethnic groups, the trust decline was particularly pronounced among white adults as the group’s scientist trust levels are now on par with Blacks and Hispanics.
- Follow the science? Consumers aren’t always impressed with scientifically developed products, study shows – Notre Dame University
- Americans’ Trust in Scientists, Other Groups Declines – Pew Research Center
- Assessing Scientific Claims in Print Ads that Promote Cosmetics: How Consumers Perceive Cosmeceutical Claims – Advertising Research Foundation
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that consumers have “mixed feelings about science in product development” partly due to their experience during the pandemic? What are your general thoughts on the benefits and potential backlash of science-based claims used in marketing or on packaging?