Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Marking A Milestone

The Seal Of Cotton Turns 50

⋅ BY KIM KITCHINGS ⋅

Over the past half-century, Cotton Incorporated’s Seal of Cotton trademark has given an identity to the entire cotton industry. From cotton farmers who proudly display the Seal of Cotton on their truck’s license plates and in their farm shops to brands and retailers who use the Seal of Cotton to differentiate their products in the marketplace, the power of the Seal is real. We can all be proud that today, more than eight out of 10 consumers are aware of the famed trademark, which promotes cotton and U.S. cotton growers to the world through promotion and product labeling. This single symbol stands for the many attributes that differentiate cotton fiber and fabric from its synthetic competitors, including natural, quality, durability and sustainability.

Cotton is the most widespread, profitable non-food crop in the world. Cotton has been woven throughout the eras of American culture and is part of monumental moments in each of our lives. From the minute we are born, we’re wrapped in a cotton blanket, we sleep in cotton sheets and live in cotton t-shirts and denim jeans. Our hygiene products contain cotton and even food we eat is made using cottonseed oil. And, many producers are feeding whole cottonseed to their dairy and beef cattle. Cotton production provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide, including 28 million cotton farmers, but until the creation of the Seal of Cotton and its marketing programs, cotton was only thought of as an agricultural commodity. The initial idea for designing a cotton trademark came when Dukes Wooters, Cotton Incorporated’s first president, wanted a symbol to convert cotton from a commonplace agricultural commodity into an identifiable consumer brand. 

Seal of cotton Milestone Moments

1970s:

THE SEAL OF COTTON IS INTRODUCED IN 1973.

The Seal provides a focal point that serves as the basis of advertisements and produces an identity for cotton. By the end of 1973, 18% of Americans identify the Seal of Cotton.

1980s:

THE MARKET SHARE AND AWARENESS AROUND THE SEAL OF COTTON GROWS.

Cotton’s share of the total textile market climbs five points to 39%, while recognition of the Seal of Cotton trademark soars to 63%.

Cotton Incorporated launches its “True Performance” advertising campaign, using hangtags with the Seal of Cotton to identify millions of garments at retail.

Cotton market share climbs to 49%, while awareness of the Seal of Cotton trademark grows to 71%. Mill consumption of U.S. cotton reaches levels not seen in 15 years.

1990s:

A PIONEERING MARKETING COLLABORATION IS FORGED.

Procter & Gamble displays the Seal of Cotton trademark for the first time on non-textile products: Cheer, Tide and Ivory Snow.

2000s:

A PIONEERING MARKETING PARTNERSHIP IS FORGED WITH PROCTER & GAMBLE.

Cotton Incorporated celebrates the 20th anniversary of its Osaka, Japan office, reconfirming its commitment to building a strong future for cotton products in Asia.

In conjunction with Cotton Council International, Cotton Incorporated develops a trade and consumer marketing campaign for India called the Cotton Gold Alliance. This marks the first time the Seal of Cotton has been used outside of the Americas for consumer promotions.

2004:

CONSUMERS INCREASINGLY SHOW AFFINITY FOR COTTON.

Consumer recognition of the Seal of Cotton trademark reaches more than 80%.

2005:

NEW INNOVATIONS PUT THE COMPANY AHEAD OF THE SUSTAINABILITY CURVE.

The creation of the Natural™ trademark is developed as a part of the company’s larger sustainability strategy. Building on the wide recognition of the Seal of Cotton, the trademark resonated across multiple industries, ultimately being adopted by six brands for their own green marketing efforts.

2006:

CLOSING THE LOOP ON COTTON SUSTAINABILITY.

Cotton Incorporated began to spotlight the problem of textile waste, starting the Blue Jeans Go Green™ denim recycling program to help keep old denim out of landfills and turn it into something new.

2015:

THE COMPANY’S MARKETING AND ADVERTISING EFFORTS CONTINUE TO EVOLVE.

Expansion of digital advertising and Seal of Cotton programs to work with companies such as Spotify, Buzzfeed, Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond and REVOLVE to ensure consumers are surrounded by cotton messaging.

2020 to today:

AS THE WORLD CONTINUES TO CHANGE, THE COMFORT OF COTTON REMAINS.

Three in 4 people recognize the Seal of Cotton.

For more than 50 years, The Seal of Cotton has been registered in nearly 70 countries with more than 950 brands. There are 190 worldwide licensees.

In 1973, Cotton Incorporated created the Seal of Cotton to brand cotton products, primarily apparel and home textiles, and its corporate marketing and promotional efforts. The Seal was designed by San Francisco-based creative agency Landor Associates, which also created logos for two other iconic brands — Levi Strauss and Coca-Cola. The Seal was designed to be sewn in labels, shared on hang tags, featured in retail stores and utilized in promotional material to distinguish and identify cotton items.

“The assignment was to find a way for cotton to stand out from competing fibers,” recalls Susan Landor Keegin, project manager for Landor Associates at the time. Susan and her colleagues presented 12 options for the iconic logo, and the winning one was Susan’s design. The inspiration for the design, she recalls, came from a trip through California. “I was going to see relatives and saw cotton growing in the fields with the bolls puffed up. Something about seeing it in person, the rigidity of the stem, and the softness of the boll inspired my design.”

Susan’s design depicted a white cotton boll rising from the word cotton, specifically the two Ts in the word cotton, laid against an earth-tone brown background. And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Seal of Cotton is registered in nearly 70 countries with over 950 brands. There are 190 worldwide licensees. 

Brand Relevancy, Awareness

Brand recognition and relevancy are created by understanding the pulse of consumer’s needs. From the start, Cotton Incorporated has invested in consumer research, weaving the insights learned from research with quality fiber and products to transform a simple logo into an emblem of trust. Cotton Incorporated has been conducting consumer research for three decades to gather consumer attitudes, behavior and insights. This data shows that over the past 20 years, more than eight out of 10 consumers are aware of the Seal of Cotton and associate the Seal with fashion, durability, quality, comfort, trust and sustainability. For designers and brands, the Seal of Cotton is a powerful consumer influencer and an effective sales builder. It provides a convenient visual reference for consumers who want to know that a product is made from cotton.

This year, we conducted an awareness study of various competing logos, and awareness of the Seal of Cotton logo remains significantly higher than any other fiber or fabric logos tested. The Seal of Cotton garners more than two times the awareness of the next closest logo, Lycra. It has four times the awareness of wool and 10 times greater awareness than that of Tencel.

The Seal of Cotton dominates almost all positive perceptions when tested against other fiber logos, particularly in keywords like natural, plant-based, softness, safety, sustainability, vintage, trusted, comfort, authenticity and reliability. More than 80% of consumers say they can rely on a brand and its product when it features the Seal of Cotton.

In the 2023 study, consumers tell us that cotton and cotton blends are two to three times more likely to represent critical attributes in apparel than clothes made of polyester, poly blends, rayon and rayon blends. Those attributes include comfort, quality, sustainability, breathability, non-irritating, easy care and hypoallergenic.

Fifty years of marketing and innovation have earned consumer affection, with more than 90% stating that cotton is a preferred choice because of its comfort, softness and versatility. As an industry, we can be proud that the Seal of Cotton garners more than two times the awareness of other fiber logos and brings consumers a sense of emotional and physical comfort and familiarity. The Seal of Cotton helps consumers identify the emotional connection they have with cotton, something no other fiber can claim.

Brand Collaboration

We are proud to offer brands and retailers the opportunity to leverage 50 years of visibility and positive connections to the Seal of Cotton trademark by using it on their products and in collaborative promotions. Cotton Incorporated’s Brand Partnerships team collaborates with department stores, e-tailers, mass merchants, specialty chain retailers and influencer-bred brands to create cotton-centric fashion and sustainability marketing programs at point-of-sale featuring the Seal.

By calling attention to cotton, through the Seal of Cotton trademark, brands and retailers can tell a story consumers identify with, in addition to aligning with the perceptions of quality, trust and sustainability associated with cotton. Over the years, partners like Amazon, Zappos, Aeropostale, Saks Fifth Avenue, Good American and REVOLVE have used the Seal of Cotton in promotional efforts to positively influence purchase decisions for cotton apparel and home products. The Seal symbolizes quality, durability and comfort on cotton-rich products online and at brick-and-mortar locations.

The sentiment from the retail industry is that the Seal of Cotton is an iconic representation of the inherent benefits of the fiber, giving consumers peace of mind and helping them quickly find fashionable, comfortable cotton products at all price points.

Seal Of Cotton Legalities

There are no royalty fees required for brands and retailers to be able to use the Seal of Cotton trademark on their products. However, there is one essential requirement — the product must be predominantly made of cotton. In fact, Cotton Incorporated has an entire team dedicated to ensuring the Seal of Cotton trademark is used correctly and in accordance with qualifying guidelines. The Seal can be used in a wide range of communications, including packaging, promotional programs, point-of-sale displays, interactive digital experiences and beyond. Inquiries about using the Seal of Cotton on products should go to cottonoutreach@cottoninc.com.

Seal of Cotton’s Future

The strength of a brand encompasses much more than the visual representation of an iconic logo. It includes the collective spirit and unwavering dedication of the team behind it. Cotton growers, ginners, merchants, spinners, brands, retailers and Cotton Incorporated’s team of researchers and marketers helped build the Seal of Cotton’s legacy. The individuals who make up the U.S. cotton industry are the custodians of the Seal’s values and the driving force that propels it towards longevity. It is in our commitment to excellence, innovation and adaptability that this brand finds the resilience to transcend eras and inspiration for the future.

Cotton Incorporated will continue developing new fabric technologies that keep cotton relevant and requested. We’ll expand our research demonstrating cotton’s natural advantage in sustainability areas including circularity. We’ll build our advertising, brand and retail partnerships with inspirational and results-oriented programs. And, we will continue to develop more research on the benefits of cotton in non-traditional markets and in cottonseed and cottonseed oil, helping build food opportunities.

In today’s competitive environment, it is Cotton Incorporated’s role to keep cotton relevant and consumers excited about the products we produce. Using the power of the Seal of Cotton helps us do that. The Seal of Cotton recognition remains strong after 50 years, and together, we can ensure that cotton will always be The Fabric of Our Lives.

For more information on the 50th anniversary of the Seal of Cotton, visit: lifestylemonitor.cottoninc.com/50-year-anniversary/

Kim Kitchings is the Senior Vice President, Consumer Marketing, Cotton Incorporated.

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