What's in a Seal?

Taking a look at the different ways in which companies use seals on packaging.

By Robert Sprung 

In a previous article, titled “I’m Natural, Trust Me!” published in the October issue of PMP News, I discussed the fact that many companies now freely use the words organic and natural on their packaging. In this article, we address how these companies also often use seals on packaging to reinforce their claims.

The average package touting “organic” or “natural” qualities often resembles a steamer trunk. Plastered with a variety of official-looking seals, emblems, and certifications, these packages are clearly designed to drive home the marketing message.

A few examples—with no judgment implied—of groups offering official seals: the Fair Trade Federation (distinct from the organization offering a Fair Trade Certified seal), the Rainforest Alliance, and a variety of organizations claiming to shun animal testing.

Another category of official-looking seals or claims is branded characteristics or ingredients. Is anyone else out there tired of products that say “cholesterol-free”? Examples here run the gamut from allergen-free, paraben-free, rich in antioxidants, and biodegradable.

Jason Natural Cosmetics highlights an ingredient and adds a seal of approval in the same stroke. Its aloe vera lotion has a certification seal from the International Aloe Science Council, “a nonprofit association with doctors and scientists to promote scientific research on aloe vera. The seal assures consumers the product passes standardized tests on the quality and quantity of its aloe ingredients.”

Aside from the official organic certification from USDA, which is awarded with the approval of an officially sanctioned certifier, the loose usage of seals and other official-sounding statements forces us into a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” situation. In today’s market, seals can come from niche organizations that have high standards and police their members, as well as from loosely defined organizations that seem to be little more than a marketing device. With this range, it can be hard to trust the significance of a seal.

Lipton Tea offers a good example of ingredient branding taken to the next level—namely, creating your own branded standard or emblem. Although the example comes from the food industry, it illustrates the type of thinking that branding professionals may apply in other industries.

When Lipton decided it was time to refresh its brand message, it saw the opportunity to underscore the beverage as a healthy choice among refreshment drinks. An important marketing point was to educate consumers about the antioxidants occurring naturally in brewed tea. Lipton created the AOX mark, a distinctively designed and consistently applied ingredient-branding mark. Short for Naturally Protective Antioxidants, the mark serves two purposes: it implies adherence to an external, hopefully objective standard (i.e., the understanding that antioxidants are healthy) but at the same time creates a mark that is distinctive and ownable by Lipton.

Avalon Organics uses a selfconstructed but official-looking Consciousness in Cosmetics seal on its products, which it says represents the “five distinct elements of consciousness: Purity and Safety, Sustainability, Products That Work, Sensuality, and Personal Choice.” (Here’s to hoping FDA doesn’t eventually try to regulate the sensuality criterion.)

Another time-honored approach to creating credibility is to put your name on something called an Institute.

One must be extremely careful in all such attempts. Consumers educate themselves very quickly, and can learn to tell the difference between real standards and those without teeth or those that are ultimately self-aggrandizing. Further, a major investment in a term like “natural” may be misplaced, as the word seems to lose meaning with each passing day.

Robin Sherk contributed to the research for this article.

No votes yet