Aishwarya Ramesh and Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Will science-led persuasion shape marketing in 2021?

Using lab results and scientists in lab coats, is science-based marketing the way forward for brands in 2021? Which categories are most likely to embrace it?

Ever since the Coronavirus broke out, many consumers have shown interest in clinical, scientific products that live up to their claims. In the pre-Corona world, consumers would have been more interested in a soap, which claimed to have soothing aloe vera extracts, rose-based fragrance or moisturising almond milk in it. Now, the needle points at products that deliver results on aspects such as sanitisation, germ-killing and immunity boosting.

On LinkedIn, Mangesh Borse, founding partner and CMO, Talavvy Business Catalysts (former VP and group head at Lowe Lintas), opined that going forward, a lot more marketing communication will be decided based on legal credibility of claims. He added that the traditional advertising model, based on rational/emotional insights, seems to be migrating towards fact-based storytelling.

On LinkedIn, academician Mangesh Borse, who is also the founding partner and CMO, Talavvy Business Catalysts, opined that going forward, a lot more marketing communication will be decided based on legal credibility of claims. He added that the traditional advertising model, based on rational/emotional insights, seems to be migrating towards fact-based storytelling.

“In the last year alone, we have witnessed legal bouts. Amul versus Hindustan Unilever, HUL versus Emami, Basmati branding rights, Dabur versus Marico, and a few more. Not to forget, every brand doesn't go knocking at the judiciary,” he wrote in his post.

The most recent example of science-based marketing that we witnessed was with German skincare brand Sebamed’s ad campaign with the independent ad agency The Womb. The tagline of the campaign was ‘Filmstars ki nahi, science ki suno’. It featured a model in a white lab coat explaining the soap’s benefits.

We spoke to experts, including the brain behind Sebamed’s campaign, to understand the way forward for science-led marketing in 2021…

Edited excerpts:

Kawal Shoor, planner and founding partner, The Womb (ex-Ogilvy & Mather)

People are worried about health right now. It is the focus of not just culture, but marketing as well. The question is, will people still be washing their hands 10 years from now, since we’re all creatures of habit? Look at the changes that have happened in the past six months.

Kawal Shoor
Kawal Shoor

People did not want to step out of their homes six months ago. But today, people are comfortable even taking their children out. We haven’t found a solution or a vaccine (for COVID), but the return to normalcy is what’s happening now. Even though the Coronavirus has left a lasting imprint on some aspects of our lives.

Which categories will take to science-led marketing depends on the creativity and innovativeness of the marketers themselves. Even a category like refrigerators can take on the cause of germ-killing and virus protection.

Any category that involves touch and use, including health, immunity, beverages, food and drink, and so on, can use this marketing approach. However, if the marketer is innovative enough, he can make connections between his brand and the issues that are happening in today’s world. That’s when good thinking can come through.

Vishal Nicholas, EVP and head, strategy, Dentsu India

More than science, it is the ability to raise eyebrows in a good way that is the most valuable tack for any marketer. Sometimes, it could be science that is the route to persuasion, as Sebamed has proven. Sometimes, it could be sheer ludicrousness, as CRED proved a few months ago.

It was science-based persuasion. The interesting thing to note from all these examples is that science needs to be packaged provocatively if it has to make a dent in the market. It can’t pass by like a ship in the night – without anyone noticing it. It has to have a sting in the bite and that always depends on the rare quality in marketers and advertisers – gumption and not trends.

Vishal Nicholas
Vishal Nicholas

However, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Many years ago, Tanishq launched the ‘karatmeter’ in their showrooms to test the purity of jewellery. It then ran ads, which read ‘There’s a thief in your family’, in an attempt to take on the family jeweller.

When it comes to the categories that are likely to embrace it, food and beauty are the obvious ones. But any category that has thrived on opacity is susceptible to new entrants, who lift the veil and thrive on transparency instead. Especially for today’s ‘back-of-the-pack-conscious-consumer’, there is no ingredient or process that can’t be Googled. You can run, but you can’t hide, as the famous statement goes. So, expect more of these battles to play out in the future.

Rajesh Srivastava, former CEO, JK Helene Curtis, and professor (and author of 'The New Rules of Business')

It is expertise-based, and not science-based. Like Colgate has been flaunting the stamp from the Dental Association. It is, in a way, endorsements, like Shah Rukh Khan is used for image reasons.

Rajesh Srivastava
Rajesh Srivastava

Also, the Sebamed versus Dove scenario is comparative advertising. It is a claim backed by a demonstration. The person dressed in a doctor’s coat is only a credible expert, who drives believability. Research suggests that the ‘expert’ is more believable and can bring in better persuasion. It has been going on for a long time.

Suman Srivastava, founder and innovation artist at Marketing Unplugged

In the past, in marketing, we defined a loyal customer as someone who would select a brand nine times out of 12 in a year. But that’s not the case anymore. Generic brands have now become promotion-conscious, or they focus on ‘do-good’ properties. There is a thin line between advertising that focuses on the benefits of the ingredients and advertising that shows how scientifically efficient the ingredients are.

Suman Srivastava
Suman Srivastava

White-coat advertising is a genre of its own. Since doctors aren’t allowed to directly endorse products, the advertisers get models in white coats to endorse their products. To take the claim of credibility a step further, the products associate with bodies like The Indian Medical Association, or the Indian Dental Association to drive their point home.

The product categories that could take up this approach include food, personal care, basically anything that goes on your skin.