Cosmetics brands may benefit from steering clear of claims around artificial ingredients and avoiding scientific jargon to make a greater impact with print ads, according to a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Jie G. Fowler (Valdosta State University), Les Carlson (University of Nebraska—Lincoln) and Himadri Roy Chaudhuri (Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad) were the authors of the paper, entitled Assessing scientific claims in print ads that promote cosmetics: How consumers perceive cosmeceutical claims.

Cosmeceutical claims, they found, were sometimes “not of the type that consumers of these products want or need” – a point that was especially true when talking about artificial formulas like using chemical compounds, such as Retin A and retinol.

“The cosmetics industry should be providing information that might lead to better and more accurate decision making about consuming cosmetics that are promoted with cosmeceutical claims,” the study said.

“Instead, consumers of these products have access to advertisement-based information that is vague and may be omitting information necessary to aid consumer decision making, at least to judges who represented cosmetics consumers.”

One phase of their research involved content analysis of 191 cosmeceutical claims made in 140 beauty ads from magazines including InStyle, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and W.

A cognitive-response study also featured 194 women, all in the 21–34-year-old bracket, with at least two years of college and from the south-eastern United States.

Moreover, analysis by four individuals with a medical background provided an extra layer of insight regarding the claims made in ads.

One insight from these efforts was that “cosmeceutical claims more likely will be perceived as misleading/deceptive than as acceptable”.

The study revealed that “formula-natural claims”, like those saying there are natural ingredients in a product, and “performance claims”, which highlight research-based product outcomes, are more likely to be seen as “vague” or reflect an “omission” by consumers.

Ads making claims around process or technology-based propositions, as well as those flagging up an artificial formula component, often received a negative response too.

“These claims might have used scientific-based language that typical consumers, as opposed to experts, found difficult to understand and judge as to their veracity and truthfulness,” the study said.

Looking at the medical panel, the study discovered that the “number of claims deemed misleading/deceptive decreased” – not least because of their specialist background and heightened level of expertise.

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff