WINNING CONSUMER CONFIDENCE WITH THE SEAL OF COTTON
Being persuaded into an action or decision lies at the heart of advertising's intent. "New and improved," "reformulated" or "reduced fat" are phrases appearing more frequently on store shelves near you. Advertisers use a myriad of clever story lines, creative words and/or pictures in an attempt to persuade consumers to choose products.
But imagine being able to actually increase sales just by adding a trademarked logo to a product's packaging. While that simplicity might make advertisers and their agencies shudder, impressive sales gains have been made by simply using one of the most recognized trademarks in the corporate world today - The Seal of Cotton.
"The Seal embodies consumer confidence and product quality," explains Ric Hendee, vice president, marketing services at Cotton Incorporated, the research and promotion company representing U.S. cotton growers and importers.
CONSUMER RECOGNITION INCREASING
"Since its creation, consumer recognition of the Seal has increased each year," he continues. "Today, seventy-five percent of consumers recognize the Seal and, subsequently, the benefits and qualities of cotton. It's that level of recognition that makes it such a powerful advertising and marketing tool." There are currently more than 1,100 licensees approved to use the Seal of Cotton on product packaging and in promotional materials.
Unveiled in 1973 at a time when cotton was experiencing an identity crisis, the Seal gave the cotton industry a visual mantra and a needed boost against the mass infiltration of the newer "miracle," petroleum-based fibers.
Today, the Seal of Cotton remains the central visual around which all Cotton Incorporated promotions revolve. "The creation of the Seal played an integral role in establishing cotton as a 'brand' and by doing so, helped bring consumer demand for cotton to an all-time high," explains J. Berrye Worsham, president & CEO, Cotton Incorporated.
Consumer recognition of the Seal, and its corresponding value to affect and influence is one reason why it has been adopted to represent several end-use products within the cotton industry.
In 1998, the Seal's identity was extended to reflect cotton's presence in the nonwovens industry - an area where cotton is experiencing excellent growth. "This area still holds vast, untapped potential for cotton, and our nonwovens division is aggressively working with a major diaper manufacturer to replace wood pulp absorbent cores with cotton," explains Worsham.
Through the years, the Seal has been used to identify cotton's presence in products from carpeting to blended apparel (clothes that contain other fibers along with cotton). "As the Seal's recognition began to grow, more and more companies requested its licensed use on their products' hang-tags and/or packaging," Hendee says.
"We had to establish parameters for which the Seal could be used," explains Hendee. "Those were established based on the amount of cotton fiber contained in that end product." Sixty percent is usually considered the minimum cotton content in most cases.
COMPETING FOR RECOGNITION
Trademark recognition is a competitive business. Millions of advertising dollars have been invested in getting and keeping the Seal of Cotton close to the top of the consumer recognition race.
"We're really lucky cotton is a product that represents something wholesome and natural, because our market research confirms that consumers are purchasing products containing fibers with that type of authenticity," Hendee says.
The latest effort to continue fueling the fire of the Seal's visual success can be seen all around Mexico City. From billboards to magazines, "algodon" (Spanish for cotton) is slowly being ingrained into the psyche of Mexican consumers.
Astute advertisers know all too well the potential trouble in translating advertising messages to different languages, so extensive research was conducted before the Mexican launch was initiated.
Market research has always played a vital role in targeting Cotton Incorporated's television advertising message. Cotton Incorporated has a long-standing partnership with one of the most respected advertising agencies in the world today - Ogilvy & Mather (O&M). Even though Cotton Incorporated is a much smaller client than American Express or Hershey's, O&M's media buying leverage has provided Cotton Incorporated with high-profile advertising placements at significant cost savings through the years. From Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, to MTV special events, Cotton Incorporated keeps the Seal of Cotton visible to eyes of consumers throughout the United States.
Successful market research also helped pave the road that identified a new, target audience for cotton - today's youth!
"We've been able to create a tremendous 'cotton loyalty' among the Baby Boomer generation," says Worsham. "But we need to reach markets where we really haven't made a previous impact, specifically the 12- to 24-year-old age group. They're growing up in cotton jeans and T-shirts, but they aren't as fiber aware as their Baby Boomer parents. We must continue to convince them that cotton is clearly the better alternative to synthetic fibers.
"Today's younger generation is our future," comments Worsham. "If we can persuade them to become loyal cotton customers, it will bode well for sales of cotton apparel for years to come."
The Seal has always been the center point around every "Fabric Of Our Lives" television advertising campaign. The latest campaign is, without question, in stark contrast to past campaigns. The first commercial campaign launch in 1989 centered on cottonís role in an America that seemed to be returning to a more traditional lifestyle.
"When we previewed our latest commercials to our Board of Directors, we stressed who the commercials were intended to influence," Worsham says. "Cotton producers are astute businessmen and women, and while a few of them clearly had reservations, most of them trusted our market research and established track record." The Board's trust was returned with several advertising awards and significant upswings in cotton sales.
New Cotton Incorporated television campaigns are created approximately every three years. The direction and look of the next campaign depends on cotton's retail position and new market research. But no doubt, the Seal of Cotton will forever play the central visual role. AM
Brad Robb is assistant director, communications, for the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn.