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Science Doesn’t Sell: Marketers Learning How Consumers Can Be Swung

Does science sell? Sometimes.

Using science to sell chocolate chip cookies and other yummy products is likely to backfire, a new study shows, but touting scientific research behind more practical, everyday items — such as body wash — can be an effective marketing strategy.

“People see science as cold, but competent. That doesn’t pair well with products designed to be warm and pleasurable to consumers,” explained study co-author Rebecca Reczek, a professor of marketing at Ohio State University.

“But the cold competence of science is seen as perfectly appropriate to sell practical products that serve a utilitarian purpose,” Reczek said in a school news release.

Her team conducted a series of experiments with hundreds of U.S. college students. In one, students were given a menu with three chocolate chip cookie choices — option A, B or C — that were described in different terms.

Half of the participants had a menu that described option A as having “Luscious chocolatey taste,” while the other had a menu that described option A as “Scientifically developed to have a luscious chocolatey taste.”

On both menus, options B and C were the same and didn’t mention science.

The science reference reduced the likelihood that participants would choose option A by 30%, according to the study. The results were published May 5 in the Journal of Consumer Research.

In another experiment, participants said they were more likely to buy a new body wash if they were told the lather will “wash away odor-causing bacteria,” rather than the lather will “immerse your senses in an indulgent experience.”

And another experiment found that mentioning a “rigorous scientific development process” in marketing an indulgent smoothie brand was described by participants as “disjointed.” They were also more likely to say “something seemed weird about the slogan.”

The findings have implications beyond marketing, according to Reczek.

“The fact that consumers have stereotypes about science and scientists may be a barrier to accepting science, whether it is products or scientific findings,” she said.

“People need a more realistic view of what scientists are really like and how science is a part of our everyday lives, including many of the products we use,” Reczek added.

More information

For more about Americans’ views on science, go to the Pew Research Center.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, May 9, 2022

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