Consumer attitudes determine a given consumer’s positioning toward a brand or product based on components like affect, cognition or beliefs, and behavior. Understanding consumer attitudes allows brands to cater their messaging to elicit a better outcome.
It’s no surprise that with the rollout of vaccines for the novel Covid-19 virus, consumers have very strong attitudes not only about whether or not they are choosing to vaccinate, but the brand of the vaccine they actually received, to the point that there is a perception of status associated with certain vaccines and the act of being vaccinated.
In her article, How Pfizer Became the Status Vax, Heather Schwedel unpacks the phenomenom of vaccine status and how Pfizer consumers have developed a “superiority complex” among vaccinated individuals based on factors like efficacy, that they believe make it better than their competitors, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
To better understand this, we should understand how the Functional Theory of Attitudes works and how it affects consumers’ perceptions enough to develop these subcultures based on their collective attitudes toward a brand and its competitors.
The Functional Theory of Attitudes suggests that factors like beliefs and attitudes influence a consumer’s psychological function in several ways. More specifically, the functional theory of attitudes implies that consumers are motivated utilitarian function, value-expressive function, ego-defensive function, and knowledge function.
The Utilitarian function relates to rewards and punishments. We can argue that Pfizer-philes believe that the vaccine’s reported 95% efficacy (or ability to produce consistent positive results) compared to Moderna’s 94% and J&J’s 66% makes it more worthwhile to consume, serving as a reward for potentially better results from the vaccine.
This function expresses the consumer’s values or self-concept – who they perceive themselves to be. A consumer in this case may wish to receive any of the vaccines because they believe that they are doing something for the common good, which is an altruistic trait they identify with. Alternatively, a consumer that specifically wants the Pfizer vaccine based on how effective it is at combatting the virus, might believe they are contributing to less spread of the virus, which contributes to a higher perception of themselves.
This function aims at consumers protecting themselves from external threats or internal feelings – the obvious threat in this case being a virus that has resulted in a global pandemic. Pfizer vaccine users are likely motivated by the vaccine’s strength and ability to protect them from this external threat.
The Knowledge function of attitudes is motivated by a need for order, structure, or meaning. In this scenario, Pfizer users may believe that the higher efficacy of the vaccine compared to its competitors makes it the natural choice because it narrows down their consumption choice. Formulating the idea that a two-dose vaccine would provide a “Real Vaccine Experience,” as Schwedel describes, can also shape a consumer’s attitudes based on their need for some sort of structure or meaning.
Perceptions Shape Consumer Attitudes
Consumers’ motivations and intent to purchase may not always be clear, but what’s important is for brands to pay attention to trends in behaviors and attitudes so they are able to develop better promotional messages that can improve their status among consumers.