Message to Seventh Generation: Seven Rules Not to Break

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chemicalsWhile this article was written in September in reference to the P&G challenge but it is even more timely now. Seventh Generation co-founder Jeffrey Hollender, was just fired on November 1st. Hollender was considered one of the top green business innovators. Either he is taking the fall for all the recent advertising issues but more likely it is because Seventh Generation is expanding to wider distribution and a broader market. These actions, along with the false advertising allegations, may dilute their brand even more.

by Kathy S. Cox, President of Marketing Philharmonic

With its strong environmental mission and its consistent brand communication through its “Protecting Planet Home” campaign and numerous other channels, Seventh Generation has been considered a top green business leader. A recent challenge by P&G showed the vulnerability of the Seventh Generation position. With the new FTC rules more clearly defining green terms, the recommendation to be totally transparent is more important than ever.

Procter & Gamble challenged a Seventh Generation commercial that they said implied Seventh Generation products did not contain hazardous chemicals and were all natural referenced in an article on Greenbiz.com. While I do not have the details to know whether P&G’s claims were valid, in the National Advertising Division (NAD) review they found P&G and Seventh Generation’s products contain hazardous chemicals and that Seventh Generation refrain from making false claims that their products are all natural. While a child cleaned with a Seventh Generation product the commercial announcer said “no one holds their breath while cleaning” and also said “people everywhere are saying no to hazardous chemicals…and yes to a safe and naturally effective way to clean”.

While the NAD’s decision is not binding, Seventh Generation removed the commercial.

So here are the seven lessons Marketing Philharmonic recommends Seventh Generation should consider in light of the hand slap from the NAD.

1. Brand is more what you do and not what you say

While Seventh Generation has shouted from the rooftops on how they are saving our planet and our health from hazardous chemicals, the presumed lapse on their commitment shows more than all of their rhetoric.

2. 100% upfront and honest

When you take a high-road position, a company needs to be a complete open book. All ingredients should be listed on the packaging clearly with explanations for each. So if any of their products contain any hazardous chemicals, those ingredients need to be clearly identified with the reason why they are there.

3. Admit your mistakes

Instead of admitting their mistake, they justified their taking the video that it had “run its course”. We could not find any responses to the situation on their web site or in press releases. The public can understand if they may have had a slight lapse in their mission against hazardous chemicals but it is harder to understand hiding.

4. Pedestals can be dangerous

When you take a strong stand, it hurts more when you get knocked down (just ask Toyota). While we often recommend that a company take a strong category position, especially when no one is dominant in that category, you have to be careful to not have hyperbole. People understand that it may take time for a company to make all the changes to reach its lofty mission. Seventh Generation did not communicate that clearly. Instead they implied they proclaim their products are already “healthy and safe”.

5. Define Natural

Natural has not been clearly defined and non-regulated. If you use the word “natural’ it might be better to define it clearly such as being plant derived. On the other hand, using 100% natural or all natural is stronger than just “natural” since consumers realize just some of the ingredients could be natural. If it is not all natural then it needs to be clearly stated what is not and why.

6. Big Boys Watch

While Seventh Generation is a small player in the overall cleaning product category, natural cleaning products are a growing category. Thus, the big players, such as Proctor and Gamble, will be watching your every move. Also there are many passionate anti-toxic chemicals proponents that are watching too.

7. Be consistent

This is Seventh Generation’s boilerplate description:
“Seventh Generation is committed to being the most trusted brand of household and personal-care products for your living home. Our products are healthy and safe for the air, the surfaces, the fabrics, the pets, and the people within your home — and for the community and environment outside of it.”

Seventh Generation seems to be inconsistent on being safe. While they chastised chemicals in their promotions, the NAD said Seventh Generation agreed they do include some hazardous chemicals. If you want to be trusted it is much easier to be positive than attacking. So, they can say “you can breathe easier with their products” rather than saying you have to “hold your breath” while cleaning with any other products.

A personal note:

As an asthma sufferer, I personally am concerned how artificial chemicals affect our health so I often bought Seventh Generation products. After reviewing detergent packaging, I noticed a brand that said 100% natural and clearly identified ingredients while Seventh Generation’s packaging was not clear. So I switched. Thus, Seventh Generation has one customer that has changed their mind about their believability on their proclaimed mission to eliminate chemicals.

Photo Courtesy of Barry Smith

© 2010 – 2011, Kathy Cox. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Kathy Cox (1 Articles)

Kathy S. Cox, President of Marketing Philharmonic has over two decades of management experience with agencies, national firms,and as the founder of two Internet companies, she develops strategies that meet bottom-line objectives. Kathy started her career on the agency side managing accounts such as Carnation Company and helping launch seven pioneering subscription TV entities. To expand into line responsibilities, Kathy moved to the client side in top media companies, including Viacom, Times Mirror, and TCI Cablevision. She won several cable industry awards and was the president of the Bay Area Cable Cooperative. She then moved to the Pacific Northwest first negotiating the Seattle Mariners first cable television rights contract and then launching NorthWest Cable News (NWCN). As head of marketing, she helped to make NWCN the highest rated regional cable news network in the countr