Message to Seventh Generation: Seven rules not to break

I have always admired Seventh Generation’s strong environmental mission and its consistent brand communication through its “Protecting Planet Home” campaign and numerous other channels. A recent challenge by P&G showed the vulnerability of the Seventh Generation position.

Proctor & 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.

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. So Seventh Generation has one customer that has changed their mind about their believability on their proclaimed mission to eliminate chemicals.

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