Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Anti-Aging Cream: Selling a Product Based on Pseudoscience

In recent years, anti-aging products have become extremely popular in the cosmetics industry for both women and men. Everyone would like to buy a cream that makes them look younger, but how can we really trust that these products do what the cosmetic companies say? The article below summarizes why anti-aging creams are truly based in pseudoscience.

Anti-aging creams are not the only products on the market that are based on pseudoscience, but I think they are a good example. In Scientific Perspectives, Lawson includes a section titled "How to Sell a Pseudoscience" by Anthony Pratkanis. Nine steps are illustrated:

  1. Create a Phantom
  2. Set a Rationalization Trap
  3. Manufacture Source Credibility and Sincerity
  4. Establish a Granfalloon
  5. Use Self-Generated Persuasion
  6. Construct Vivid Appeals
  7. Use Pre-Persuasion
  8. Frequently Use Heuristics and Commonplaces
  9. Attack Opponents through Innuendo and Character Assassination
For step one, the "unavailable goal that looks real and possible" is looking younger using anti-aging cream. Many of these products boast actually being able to change your skin at the cellular level to make you look younger, which may seem attainable to most, but how realistic is it? Especially if there haven't been any scientific trials.

For step two, many anti-aging cream advertisements recommend to the consumer to participate in a free trial or start with their simpler product and work up. This allows the consumer to rationalize the reason for trying the product in the first place, whether it works or not.

For step three, many scientific terms are thrown around in the cosmetics industry to attempt to convince the consumer that the product is scientifically backed, even when it's not.

For step four, a granfalloon is "a proud and meaningless association of human beings." In advertisements, they try to illustrate a large group of people using the anti-aging cream and they show the positive testimonials. Bandwagon is heavily used in pseudoscience!

For step five, it is possible to eventually convince the consumer to convince themselves to believe in the product! For many cosmetic companies, they offer an opportunity to become a salesperson to recruit other consumers into becoming salespeople. This often convinces the consumer turned salesperson to believe wholeheartedly in the product. 

For step six, this is where the glowing testimonials and photo-shopped pictures come in! In so many anti-aging cream commercials you hear a famous celebrity or even an average person give their heart-wrenching story about how this cream changed their life. Also, these cosmetic products often show altered photos comparing a before and after. These parts of the advertisement is what will stand out to the consumer. 

For step seven, at the beginning of anti-aging commercials, they may say that their product is better than all others and show a few graphs to convince the consumer. That way the consumer is already thinking about the product positively from the very beginning.

For step eight, in these anti-aging commercials, bandwagon heuristics, natural heuristics, and science commonplaces are all used to convince the consumer.

For step nine, this is true in all advertising and pseudoscience. It is a very common practice to attack industry competitors, and it is no different in the cosmetic industry.

These nine steps can probably be applied to any pseudoscience that is being sold to the general public, but I hope you enjoyed the application to anti-aging creams!

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