Perception matters: Consumers prefer ‘natural’ prevention options | The SourceSeptember 10, 2020
New research shows consumers strongly prefer “natural,” not synthetic, products to prevent ailments.
That presents a dilemma. Medical researchers are racing to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. When they do, how receptive will consumers be?
“Vaccines are technically a treatment to prevent an ailment,” said Sydney Scott, assistant professor of marketing at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. “Moreover, vaccines are unnatural insofar as humans create and alter them. Some people refuse vaccines as a preventative measure, preferring not to ‘interfere with nature.’”
As the world anxiously awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, however, perhaps consumers will view it as a curative for a societal problem, Scott said.
“Our research suggests that if consumers view a vaccine more like a curative to the epidemic, rather than as a preventative for the self, they will be more receptive toward it.”
Scott, an expert in consumer behavior and decision-making, is lead author of the article “Consumers Prefer ‘Natural’ More for Preventatives Than for Curatives,” forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.
‘Consumers widely desire natural products, but not always to the same degree’
Consumers believe that natural products are safer and less potent than synthetic alternatives, the research found. And they care more about safety and less about potency when they’re trying to prevent problems.
“This research sheds light on when the marketing of ‘natural’ is most appealing to consumers,” Scott said.
Consumers often prefer natural versions of foods, medicines, personal-care products and home products, according to the paper. “Natural” isn’t a legally defined and regulated term, but consumers’ definition is that a product has no additives and that humans haven’t tampered with it.
“This preference for natural is an increasingly important driver of consumers’ decisions,” Scott said.
In some cases, however, consumers abandon their preference for natural. For example, people widely accept insulin, antibiotics, cortisone creams and synthetic stain removers, although they are evidently unnatural, according to the paper. “Thus, anecdotally, the preference for natural products looms larger in some situations than in others.”
The researchers focused on the relation between consumers’ judgments about naturalness and their beliefs about two important attributes — safety and potency. They examined when consumers prefer natural most strongly and why the variance in preference for natural occurs.
“Consumers widely desire natural products, but not always to the same degree,” Scott said.
Scott and co-authors Paul Rozin and Deborah Small, both at the…