WHEN Seventh Generation began selling environmentally sustainable products almost three decades ago, it was dedicated to the relatively few consumers who were interested in recycled toilet paper and paper towels. These days, green is mainstream, and companies like Walmart and Clorox promote their natural lines.
So this month, Seventh Generation, which is based in Vermont, began a $15 million advertising campaign — the biggest in its history and only the second time it has used television — to introduce itself to potential customers and reclaim those who may have strayed.
“There was a time Seventh Generation owned this market, and little by little, competitors chipped away at it,” said Joel Makower, chairman of GreenBiz, a media company that tracks corporate sustainability and green marketing. “The holy grail of green products is to break into the mainstream, and not many make a run for it — it looks like that’s what Seventh Generation is doing.”
The ads star Maya Rudolph, of “Saturday Night Live” and “Bridesmaids” fame, who is appealing and slightly goofy when promoting the products. There are three versions of the ad — “Not Blue Goo,” “Weird Dyes” and “Common Scents” — and each features the tagline #comeclean. The campaign, by the ad agency 72andSunny, will also appear online and in print, and it is expected to run for about two years.
In one commercial, Ms. Rudolph notes that she is a “mother, actor and, surprise, I do my own laundry sometimes.” The focus is on how pure and natural Seventh Generation products are compared with regular detergents and cleaners. How well they clean is also emphasized, addressing one reason that consumers are hesitant to buy environmentally friendly products.
The perception people have of these kinds of products is “that they don’t work as well and that the prices are a little higher,” said Norm Borin, a professor of marketing at California Polytechnic State University who has written about consumer reaction to green marketing.
Seventh Generation is often more expensive than its nongreen counterparts, but that depends on the product and “usually it’s no more than a 10 percent premium,” said Joey Bergstein, Seventh Generation’s chief marketing officer.
And what about the effectiveness of green laundry detergents? Seventh Generation and about 15 other green detergents landed in the middle of a list of about 75 tested, according to Consumer Reports current ratings.
Green cleaners have always been niche goods, accounting for just 3 percent of the overall market. Seventh Generation was the biggest single green marketer in 2014, with 22.7 percent of sales, edging out the mainstream offshoot Purex Natural Elements, and way ahead of other established green brands like Method, Caldrea and Earth Friendly Products, according to a 2015 report by Packaged Facts, a market research company.
The green market expanded more quickly from 2007 through the beginning of 2010 as mainstream mass marketers introduced products like Clorox Green Works, Arm & Hammer Essentials and Purex Natural Elements. So Seventh Generation and other environmentally friendly companies like Method answered by introducing new products and increasing the places where consumers could buy their goods.
The recession hurt, however, and consumers bought these products less frequently, often choosing cheaper options.
But the market has revived since then, especially with Walmart introducing its own green label, Great Value Naturals, three years ago.
Seventh Generation has experienced growth every year since its inception, except for fiscal year 2009, Mr. Bergstein said, and total company growth has nearly doubled in the last six years.
Much of the impetus for the campaign is that consumers who want to buy Seventh Generation items can now actually find them not just at places like Whole Foods, where they have traditionally been, but through Amazon and at Target.
“The availability is so much more than it was five to 10 years ago,” Mr. Bergstein said.
The ads take aim at conventional detergents — “blue goo,” as Ms. Rudolph calls it in one commercial — and are intended especially for consumers who already buy organic food and maybe want their deodorant, body wash and toothpaste to be organic as well.
People are first concerned about “what they eat, then the products they put on their skin, and then the products they use around the house,” Mr. Bergstein said.
They are also concerned that when they are told something is chemical-free or natural, that it actually is, demonstrated by anger over the actress Jessica Alba’s Honest personal care products such as sunscreen. This year, users charged in a lawsuit that the products did not work and that they contained synthetic chemicals, contrary to the labeling.
Seventh Generation, however, has been around a lot longer than most green goods and has built trust. The trick now is to get its name out there, as well as convince people that buying green does not imply a drop in performance, Mr. Makower said.
“At one point, the perceptions were true,” he said. “Their toilet paper was not as friendly as Charmin. But they’re saying it’s now time to take another look.”
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