THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
MARKETING ONE OF THE WORLD'S OLDEST CROPS
by Mitzi Hunt, Communications Manager, Cotton Board
When you traditionally think about cotton, denim jeans and T-shirts probably come to mind first. However, Cotton Incorporated, Cary, NC, is taking that reach much further and tapping into markets that have conventionally been considered "untraditional" for cotton.
As a non-profit organization representing U.S. Upland cotton — a species of short-staple cotton grown on almost 98% of the land dedicated to cotton in the in the U.S., it has always been Cotton Incorporated's goal to work on behalf of cotton producers and importers to increase the demand for and improve the competitive market position of cotton. Sometimes, however, it's necessary to look beyond customary activities to expand the use and market potential of a product — and that's just what Cotton Incorporated is doing for U.S. cotton.
"Because we work on behalf of U.S. cotton producers and importers who fund the Cotton Research & Promotion Program, we want them to get the most out of their U.S.-produced fiber," comments Cotton Incorporated's President and CEO J. Berrye Worsham, "and that's why we are constantly researching to find new areas that it makes sense to incorporate cotton. New markets mean new opportunity, thus a better bottom-line for cotton's producers and importers."
TAPPING INTO "UNTRADITIONAL MARKETS"
Nonwovens, labeled as what we call a "non-traditional" market for cotton, has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years. "We have several exciting projects in the works that in some way incorporate cotton and the brand of cotton in their product use," says Cotton Incorporated's Manager of Supply Chain Initiatives, Janet O'Regan, who heads the non-wovens research and marketing efforts for the organization.
In 2005, the first baby wipe in North America to contain a notable percentage of cotton — 15% — was released for sale exclusively at the number-one wholesale club retailer in the country — Costco. The product was introduced in conjunction with Cotton Incorporated's new Cotton ENHANCED Seal of Cotton, which is helping the organization market U.S. cotton to both non-woven manufacturers and consumers by incorporating it onto the packaging of cotton-rich nonwoven products like the Costco baby wipe.
Worsham notes that the Seal of Cotton, originally introduced to consumers more than 30 years ago in 1973, has been very well received. "Studies have shown that eight out of 10 consumers in the U.S. recognize the Seal of Cotton and prefer to buy products with the logo on its packaging," he says.
O'Regan says that the new Cotton Enhanced trademark allows consumers to easily identify a brand they trust with real cotton content. "We are building logo-loyalty, and want consumers to associate the Seal of Cotton with comfort, softness and naturalness — no matter what product it's on," she says.
The Costco-exclusive product, called Kirkland Signature Cotton ENHANCED baby wipes, uses Polymer Group Inc.'s (PGI) Apex technology to impart a three-dimensional image into the material that enhances its cleaning performance. "The technology is well suited for cotton because it enhances the performance attributes of the fiber," notes PGI Senior Director of North American Consumer and Specialty Wipes Mike Disotelle.
Cheryl Morgan, Category Director for Nice-Pak Products, Inc., which is the supplier of the wipes — says "the addition of cotton provides a higher level of softness and durability to the product."
In 2006, another development surfaced in the nonwovens area — the release of the second 15% cotton-rich baby wipe, this time licensed under the Playskool brand and sold nationally through the CVS Corporation, which is the largest retail pharmacy chain in the U.S.
The new Playskool baby wipe, which also uses Cotton Incorp-orated's Cotton Enhanced trademark on its packaging, has had a soft launch in CVS stores throughout the country while the Hasbro Playskool company is preparing for a major launch of this and many other Playskool baby products early in 2007.
"CVS, has plans to introduce an array of Playskool-branded baby care products in more than 6,100 CVS stores, and the Cotton Enhanced baby wipe is one of the first products to be available to their customers," O'Regan says. "The major launch that is planned for 2007 will promote these products to a consumer group comprised of parents and caretakers that spend millions of dollars on baby care products each year, so it's important that they see the Seal of Cotton when they are choosing products to purchase. It assures them that there is real cotton in the product."
The Playskool baby wipe is made to be extra soft and extra strong with a unique cushiony texture and mild cleansing solution that leaves the baby feeling more refreshed. "By using real cotton in the product, it adds that added touch of softness and comfort that every baby deserves," O'Regan says.
COTTON INSULATION? REALLY?
Additionally, you might not think of building insulation as being made out of cotton, but Cotton Incorporated has been working with Bonded Logic (www.bondedlogic.com) to recycle old denim into insulation called UltraTouch Natural Cotton Fiber Insulation that will be used to rebuild a primary school in Baton Rogue destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. "To help with this effort, we have called on students from across the country to donate denim clothes they don't
wear anymore," says Cotton Incorporated's Vice President of Consumer Marketing, Paula Rosario.
The "denim drive" initiative began with a goal of collecting 10,000 articles of denim clothing, and has clearly surpassed its goal. "We have collected almost 15,000 denim items that are in the process of being converted into the UltraTouch insulation," adds Rosario. "It's a great accomplishment that's going to a great cause."
Featured in several magazines and television specials, UltraTouch was recently named as one of the Top 50 Products of 2006 by Architectural Products magazine and continues to receive numerous requests for additional information about the product made naturally with cotton.
EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING AT ITS BEST
Cotton Incorporated's "denim drive" event that works to supply Bonded Logic with old denim apparel, called Cotton. From Blue to Green., is part of an interactive, mobile marketing event — Cotton's Dirty Laundry Tour. The tour, which finished its second round of stops last fall at colleges across the nation in an effort to heighten awareness of and exposure to cotton among college students, is what marketing experts call "experiential" marketing. "The idea of experiential marketing is to incorporate traditional promotional activities with non-traditional and exciting marketing, which allows us to take our creative efforts to a whole new level," explains Rosario. "It's worked really well to get this age group connected to cotton."
The event, which traveled to 14 college campuses in 2006, 10 in 2005 and is scheduled to hit the road again in 2007, incorporates fun and interactive games, laundry tips and fashion ideas in tents set up across campus with everything relating back to cotton. "This age group, called 'millenials' has an annual spending power of nearly $172 billion," adds Rosario, "and it is this time in their lives that they are testing and redefining their likes and dislikes, loyalties and values, therefore, it's a great opportunity for us to educate them about the ease of care and unique fashionability of cotton."
Middle Tennessee State University student Sarah Matlock commented at the tour's stop on her campus that, in addition to learning something new about cotton, she "liked all the free cotton stuff that they're giving away." Free or not, it's called logo awareness, and it's a smart move by Cotton Incorporated's marketing team. "The more they see the Seal of Cotton, they more they remember to think about cotton when purchasing apparel products," says Rosairo. "We want consumers to check labels and look for 100% cotton or
In more ways than one, Cotton Incorporated is reaching into untapped markets in addition to their ongoing traditional efforts to find more ways to advance cotton's competitive position in today's marketplace. For more information about the activities stemming from the Cotton Research & Promotion Program, visit www.cottoninc.com or www.cottonboard.org. The Program is administered by the Cotton
Board and conducted by Cotton Incorporated for U.S. cotton producers and importers.