Overview of Workshop &Quot;Consumer Research Goes to Washington&Quot;

J. J. Persensky, Chairman, Center for Consumer Product Technology, National Bureau of Standards
[ to cite ]:
J. J. Persensky (1979) ,"Overview of Workshop &Quot;Consumer Research Goes to Washington&Quot;", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 15-17.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 15-17

OVERVIEW OF WORKSHOP "CONSUMER RESEARCH GOES TO WASHINGTON"

J. J. Persensky, Chairman, Center for Consumer Product Technology, National Bureau of Standards

[Contribution of the National Bureau of Standards. Not subject to copyright.]

Speakers:

J. J. Persensky, Chairman

Charles Handy / Food Economics / U. S. Department of Agriculture

Dennis McNeill / Bureau of Consumer Protection / Federal Trade Commission

Richard L. Oliver / Division of Drug Advertising / Food and Drug Administration

Ann M. Ramey-Smith / Center for Consumer Product Technology / National Bureau of Standards

Raymond C. Stokes / Director - Division of Consumer Studies / Food and Drug Administration

Selwyn M. Waingrow / Office on Smoking and Health / U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this workshop was to discuss the kinds of consumer research performed by Government agencies and to designate areas of research where more work is needed. Items addressed included program descriptions, indications of who actually performed the research and policy issues and problems. There are no papers describing research findings. Not all Government consumer programs were included. The objective was to familiarize researchers with some current Government programs and to stimulate the Association for Consumer Research community to think about and perhaps pursue consumer research which may have application to Government policy or research objectives.

This paper is the Chairman's summary and interpretation of the proceedings at the workshop. The paper is organized to briefly describe relevant agency programs and includes suggestions for research needs.

CURRENT GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS

U. S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.)

The U.S.D.A. has a long history of consumer research supporting their role in which the consumer is viewed as the end of the food chain. Research has been centered around the creation of food policy through studies of the social science, technical, and physical aspects of human nutrition. Economic and statistical policy analysis have also been employed. Current research has been focused on four programs: the situation in the food sector; basic research on the factors affecting food choice; food policy analysis; and food assistance programs.

The food sector situation is determined through studies of consumption trends and food purchasing behavior, with emphasis on various demographics. The National Household Food Consumption Survey is the main tool used to support this program. It provides a new, rich source of cross-sectional data and provides a data base both for U.S.D.A. and other consumer researchers.

Basic research is undertaken to determine the factors which affect food choice behavior. The factors of interest include: family size and composition; advertisements and information; health status; and, attitudes, opinions, preferences, and life styles. Other basic research addresses the economics of human nutrition, the effectiveness of nutrition education and studies of psychographic variables in shopping and purchase behavior.

Food policy analysis has, in the past, been directed primarily toward the agricultural sector. New emphasis is being placed on research in the consumer sector related to food safety and regulation as regards chemicals and additives in food and the effects of changing lifestyles with an emphasis on nutrition.

Food assistance programs are being studied through the National School Lunch Program. Again the emphasis is on nutrition with the interactive effects of the attitudes of students, faculty, and parents as a measure.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The FTC has had a consumer research program since 1971 where researchers have provided consumer input to Commission staff and officials. The FTC has sponsored research in many areas including appliance energy labeling, childrens' programming/advertising, warranties, ad substantiation, and corrective advertising. FTC is also required to perform evaluative research to determine the impact of their programs and regulations. The Proceedings of the 1978 American Marketing Association Educators' Conference includes a paper by M. Mazis and D. McNeill which describes the range of programs within FTC. Two topics of specific interest are guidelines for Endorsement Advertising and Comparison Advertising. These guidelines are in the form of policy statements which are an interpretation of the Administrative Law under which FTC is currently governed.

The FTC has provided guidelines for advertisers when endorsers are used to promote products. The guidelines provide that the honest view of the endorser is expressed, that there is no distortion of the endorser's opinion or experience and that if the endorsers purport to use the products they actually do. Several research questions arise which could test the effects of the endorsement policy. Included are criteria for defining endorsers, visual effects, organizational endorsers, and effects on the consumer.

The second topic is comparison advertising. Attempts have been made to measure the broad effects of comparative advertisements but directed research is still needed to guide future policy. The questions of deceptive effects, reality of the test situation, extent of information, and effects of full disclosure of results need to be answered.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - Bureau of Drugs

The Bureau of Drugs of the FDA is concerned with the regulation of the drug industry. The focus of their research has been on drug advertising and drug labeling.

The FDA is concerned with monitoring drug advertising to determine the validity of drug advertising claims and the effect of drug promotions on physician's perception of deception in advertising. Present research efforts center around physicians' behavior in responding to prescription drug promotions. The drug information included in promotional materials is evaluated for its compliance with FDA regulations. The FDA's monitoring of drug labeling focuses on the labeling of drugs as it affects both physicians' and consumers' behavior. Of special interest is the problem of including drug reactions in information which accompanies the products. Current research is aimed at developing and evaluating Patient Package Inserts for use by consumers to include information concerning drug-drug and drug-food interactions.

The FDA Bureau of Drugs is also concerned with evaluating the effectiveness of current drug advertising regulations. Legal guidelines for ads directed at physicians require that certain minimal requirements be met for providing information on which physicians make decisions. Research is performed to determine the content and format which best communicates the message.

National Bureau of Standards (NBS)

The mission of the Center for Consumer Product Technology (CCPT) at the NBS is, essentially, to develop standardized test methods for consumer products and public safety equipment. The CCPT has no regulatory power; its function is to provide technical assistance to other government bodies with regulatory authority and to industry for voluntary standardization. There are four program areas addressed by the CCPT: Public Safety, Product Safety, Energy, and Product Performance.

The Public Safety program is represented by the work of the Law Enforcement Standards Laboratory which develops guidelines for law enforcement equipment standards. Work has been performed on items such as helmets, lights and sirens, protective clothing, and psychological deterrents to nuclear theft. Product safety work is performed primarily for the Consumer Product Safety Commission and has involved studies of bicycles, lawn mowers, hot surfaces, playground equipment, and electrical wiring.

The NBS led the introduction of the concept of appliance energy use labeling through a voluntary program initiated in 1973. The Department of Energy and the Federal Trade-Commission are now leading such a program on a mandatory basis. CCPT has provided significant input to those agencies related to energy use test methods which incorporate the effect of consumers' behavior.

The Product Performance program has addressed the concept of product life-cycle performance/cost, consumer information needs, and the needs of special user groups such as the handicapped and elderly. A primary thrust was the Voluntary Consumer Product Information Labeling Program. The objective of this program was to provide point-of-sale informative labels which were designed to allow consumers to include performance information in their purchase choice.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - Bureau of Foods

The Bureau of Foods of the FDA is active in consumer research to analyze consumer responses to and needs for information on foods and cosmetics. Current research efforts are devoted to consumers' understandings and use of food labeling information such as ingredients, nutrition, additives, freshness dating, and product weight.

These efforts are aimed at providing information to consumers so as to maximize its usefulness and understandability.

In addition to their role in traditional consumer research, FDA has recently initiated research-oriented surveillance of food products in order to assess the nutrition profile and other attributes of various major food categories. The goal of this research is to provide current information on food contents such as artificial flavors or colors and preservatives. Compliance oriented surveillance has been the Bureau's function since its inception. The regulation of the food industry makes use of economic cost/benefit studies which allow the FDA to study the cost impact of proposed regulations of the food industry.

The FDA also recognizes an obligation toward consumer education, especially as they make significant changes in food labeling - an effort to assess food consumption patterns is designed to measure long term patterns of eating behavior in order to address overconsumption trends of certain food categories. Assessment of consumption patterns may be used to determine what information is necessary to allow consumers with special needs to avoid certain food categories.

In addition to traditional research methods, the Bureau of Foods relies on, and is required to respond to comments from the public and the food industry at public hearings and through responses to Federal Register Notices.

Office on Smoking and Health (OSH)

The Office on Smoking and Health is a new agency whose predecessor was the National Clearing House on Smoking and Health. The mission of OSH is to administer a national program to inform the public on the dangers of smoking, to reduce deaths and disabilities due to smoking, and to promote and stimulate behavioral, biological, epidemiological, and toxicological research on the causes and effects of smoking. OSH works with the Office of Health Information and Health Promotion to carry out their mission and to coordinate all Public Health Service information programs.

Past research has emphasized questions related to attitudes, beliefs, and practices regarding smoking among teenagers and adults, surveys of health professionals regarding their personal smoking habits and the effects on client interaction, cessation methods, and evaluation of health education both in terms of community and special populations.

A major policy question has been to define the role of the government in protecting the individual in a private behavior. Questions have included privacy, the cost to society, the differences between roles of being helpful or harassive, and differences between information/education and persuasion/manipulation.

IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

The purpose of this section is to provide some insight into possible research topics of interest to members of the Association for Consumer Research. The results of such research would be helpful to Government consumer programs. This section is a synopsis of the suggestions made by the various speakers categorized by research area rather than by agency. James Bradley of the Human Factors Division of the Consumer Product Safety Commission was unable to attend the conference but did provide input to this section. The general idea behind these suggestions is to stimulate research which will guide policy rather than research which is reactive to policy decisions. Funds may be available from the agencies participating, but it is hoped that independent research in these areas will be performed regardless of funding.

The research topics may be specific to agency missions, such as smoking cessation methods, but most are generic in nature and could be applied to nutrition and foods, advertising, drugs, safety, or product performance. Three major areas are suggested: Consumer Information, Advertising and Promotion, and Consumer Behavior. A fourth area, the Role of Government, is listed separately. Many of the research topics are expressed as questions.

CONSUMER INFORMATION

Included in this area are labels, brochures, Patient Package Inserts, and other brief information modes.

Such information may be intended for consumer use at pre-purchase, point-of-purchase, or during product use.

* Valid methods, other than self-report, should be developed to determine what information consumers want, need, and will use.

* What are the criteria for determining the technical level to be used in the information?

* Should information be presented in terms of contents or performance, or should the information be provided for avoidance or to express hazards present?

* Does price or brand preference outweigh performance or safety information?

* How much information can be presented prior to sale or at point-of-sale?

* How should this information best be presented to be attracting and useable?

* What media do consumers attend to most for the purpose of gathering product or service information?

* Should specific methods be developed for gathering input on needs from special user groups, such as the elderly, handicapped, teenagers, physicians, or children.

* What presentation media are most effective for the various special user groups?

* How effective are use and care manuals?

* How can consumer information processing theory be applied to policy making?

ADVERTISING AND PROMOTION

Research topics separate from consumer information are listed for ads and promotions because of their wide usage and the special needs in these areas.

* Do ads encourage brand choice only or do they encourage generic usage?

* What are the effects of endorsers on product choice or decision criteria?

* What are the effects of organizational endorsements?

* Do visual techniques enhance the effect of endorsers?

* In what form is corrective advertisement most effective?

* How is deceptive or distorted advertisement best corrected or disclosed?

* Can consumers determine if tests in comparative advertising are appropriate to normal use? What are the effects of such presentations?

* What are the most effective modes for ads and corrective advertisements for special user groups?

* What are the effects of sales personnel and retailers on special populations?

Consumer Behavior

The research topics listed refer mostly to product or service use rather than pre- or point-of-purchase behavior.

* Valid methods should be developed to measure use and satisfaction with products and services.

* Normal and stereotypical practices regarding nutrition, eating behavior, smoking behavior, product use, and safety practices should be measured.

* Does the mass media effect life-style changes?

* Is mass media promotion more effective than specific consumer education techniques in altering behavior?

* What are the economic factors related to nutrition?

* How does risk-taking interact with safety practices?

* What methods can best bring about cessation of dangerous practices, e.g. smoking or unsafe use of products?

* What are the interactive and feedback effects on consumer behavior of the attitudes of families, physicians, patients, and other professionals.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

Many problems are being addressed by the Government in the consumer area. Are they all appropriate to Government intervention?

* What limits should be placed on consumer related regulation?

* Do nutrition, safety, smoking, or advertising regulations infringe on the privacy, freedom of choice of the individual?

* What is the societal cost of consumer problems and regulation?

* Is safety an important concern of consumers?

* Should the Government attempt to modify consumer behavior?

A final question is posed to the members of the Association of Consumer Research. Should you become an active force in strengthening Government consumer programs by performing policy related research regardless of funding or by responding to Federal Register requests for comment? Remember that not all Government consumer programs were represented in this presentation. Any of the speakers could prove to be valuable resources when planning a research project.

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