By Jeremy Kees, PhD, Professor, Marketing & Business Law and Faculty Director, Villanova University
February 1, 2018
The American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists (AAHP) enlisted my assistance in 2017 to design and conduct consumer comprehension studies for a number of possible advertising and label disclaimers. AAHP was in the process of revising the existing voluntary advertising guideline, and my efforts would provide statistical support for any new disclaimer that would be adopted.
Last summer, I conducted a series of consumer research studies to test the effectiveness of potential homeopathic product disclaimers. The research was designed to investigate consumer understanding of product disclaimers in homeopathic product advertisements. A mock but realistic advertisement was selected as the test vehicle because it presented fewer online testing issues than would a mock product package. Across the nationwide studies, 14 different variations of possible homeopathic product disclaimers were tested. Rigorous between-subject experiments (with control conditions) were utilized to examine the impact of the disclaimers on consumer perceptions.
Specifically, the research was interested in uncovering consumer beliefs related to:
- the extent to which the FDA has evaluated the product
- the extent to which the claim made by the homeopathic product was based on scientific evidence, and
- the extent to which any claim made by the homeopathic product is accepted by modern medical experts.
Care was taken to align the studies with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for nonprescription drug product label comprehension studies.
The results show that there was variation in the effectiveness of the disclaimers examined across the studies. There is no widely accepted standard for the percentage of consumer understanding that would deem any particular disclaimer “effective” in absolute terms. However, given the body of research that consistently shows the variability of disclaimer efficacy across many categories of products, the consumer understanding results found in this research were very strong.
In particular, the results demonstrate that the disclaimer ultimately adopted by the AAHP (“Claims based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence. Not FDA evaluated.”) was the most effective at communicating that the homeopathic product tested in the study was not evaluated by the FDA and that the homeopathic product claim was not based on science nor was accepted by modern medical experts. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of study participants who viewed the mock advertisement with the disclaimer were able to understand and correctly interpret the disclaimer. In light of the previous scientific literature on product disclaimers, the results from this research provide strong support for the effectiveness of the homeopathic product disclaimer.