Seventh Generation Strikes Back

Seventh Generation has taken a backseat to Clorox’s Green Works as the top seller of eco-friendly cleaning products. Fighting back, the 20-year-old category pioneer is revamping its look while readying a new ad campaign.

New designs will launch across its laundry line first, with additional rollouts across its spray cleaners, wipes and paper towel brands scheduled for completion by the third quarter 2009. The company has dedicated an ad spend north of $1 million to support the launch. While minute compared to its competitors, the spend is Seventh Generation’s largest since 2004. Details behind the ad effort are still being finalized.

The green products category “has changed so much in the last 18 to 24 months,” said Courtney Loveman, who goes by the title “Brandmother” at Seventh Generation. “We want to make sure we do whatever we can to make our packaging interesting and relevant in today’s marketplace.”

The move is a necessary one as IRI data shows Clorox surpassing Seventh Generation in four of the five categories in which the brands compete. The one exception is dish detergent, in which Seventh Generation boasted an $8 million annual lead. This may not last long. Clorox’s Green Works dish detergent, launched late summer, has already generated $1 million in sales, per IRI data for 52 weeks ending Oct. 5.

Seventh Generation also has smaller rival Church & Dwight with which to contend. C&D recently kicked off an ad campaign to support its Arm & Hammer Essentials brand, the company’s first foray into trigger and spray bottle cleaners.

Meanwhile, Method is in the process of launching Squeaky Green, a biodegradable, triple-concentrated laundry detergent that comes with green cleaning benefits. An all-purpose, dilutable cleaner is also en route to Target and Lowe’s stores this coming May.

Steve Lamoureux, CMO at Affinnova, the optimization technology firm that worked on Seventh Generation’s design, said a key concern during the project was to retain as much of the brand logo and equity as possible. “They had a pretty constrained space, and whenever you have packaging that’s already in market, the question is, ‘What’s the sacred cow?'”

Affinnova generated 4,000 design variations and tested these logos with 453 current and potential consumers over a four-week period. The result was a cleaner, less cluttered design that leveraged a brighter green leaf versus the  dark green, forest-like backdrop of old.

While all-natural brands like Tom’s of Maine and Burt’s Bees have been snapped up by larger competitors, the sprucing up of Seventh Generation is not part of an effort to be acquired, said Loveman. “We are committed to the long term goals of creating safe and effective household cleaners . . . The new package is simply a way for us to have our products be more clear and appealing to our established customers and to new customers.”

The fact that the veteran brand is fighting back may cause concern for Clorox, said Ali Dibadj, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein. “Seventh Generation is one of the most well-known pioneers in this category, and for them to be on the attack again probably isn’t a good sign, if they’re successful, for these big players.” The brand still holds the upper hand because of its heritage, he said.

The new look should help, said Allen Adamson, managing director at brand consultancy Landor Associates, New York. Compared to the new packaging, the old version looks like “it was made by someone in a cabin in Vermont.”