Natural trumps organic in cosmetics marketing, says advertising exec

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Consumers Personal care Cosmetics

The word natural has a powerful positive meaning for consumers, more so than organic, when it comes to cosmetics and personal care products, according to Suzanne Shelton, of the Shelton Group.

The advertising agency focuses on the sustainable space and has run a number of focus groups to identify how receptive consumers are to marketing messages relating to sustainability.

According to Shelton, many consumers misunderstand the terms natural and organic, and believe that natural is the more regulated term.

“Our research shows that over half the population would rather see 100 per cent natural, and only 20 percent of the population would like to see 100 percent organic,”​ she told USA.

“It seems they have got it one hundred and eighty degrees backwards, they think that natural is the regulated term and not organic,”​ she explained.

In addition, Shelton explained that for some consumers the term ‘organic’ has negative connotations.

“In focus groups we also hear from lower middle income consumers who feel negativity towards organic. If you don’t have a lot of money it is an elitist term, sort of ‘they just put it on there to charge me more’,”​ she said.

Health messages powerful in cosmetics

She also suggested that messages about consumer health were likely to be more successful than environmental messages, when advertising a cosmetics and personal care product in the sustainable space.

“The big green bucket has very different meanings for consumers per category. In the skin care category it is very much about health and ingredients, and most specifically what is not included,”​ she said.

Shelton did however recognise that ‘free from’ marketing is not without its pitfalls. It is not as simple as putting a long list of what is not in the product as consumers don’t really understand what this means, she said. She suggested using websites as a way to communicate the bulk of the information regarding specific ingredients.

Although, health messages for the moment might be more powerful, environmental messages can be strong, but for a smaller section of the population.

“In the US, although consumers are concerned about the environment it is in fourth place ​[after the economy, health and the war on terror]. Yes they will eventually get educated, but not over night, it is not on everyone’s agenda.”

According to Shelton, a small proportion of the population is fairly engaged with all things environmental, and manufacturers could do well to target them. But, she said, environmental claims are not going to work for everyone.

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Natural Certification

Posted by Pure Natural Diva,

This could be the reason I was hearing a lot of "Chatter" Expo West (one of the largest natural product shows in the country) last year about Natural Certification - even if they are successful... I'm not sure how much help it will be.

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Perception is the reality

Posted by Larry S. Moroni,

When it comes to the end consumer, it does not surprise me to learn from the Shelton Group study that the average consumer has this inverse understanding of the two descriptive terms: Natural and Organic. Marketers of finished products have done a great job of convincing the public that all things "natural" are good, and good for you. Thus far, the major retail brands have yet to delineate the difference between natural and organic in the mind of the consumer. For Certified Organic to really take hold in personal care products, this "education" of the consumer must take place, and the benefits must be convincing...especially in today's economic climate.

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