Competition Drives Marketers to Come Clean in Ingredients

Bill Stalled in Congress, but Seventh Generation, Method Provide Impetus for Clorox, SCJohnson

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A law that would have forced household-cleaner marketers to disclose their ingredients on labels may have died quietly, but marketers nevertheless are coming clean about their ingredients like never before.

For that, you can probably credit pressure from upstart marketers such as Seventh Generation and Method. Growth of such brands, each with sales of more than $100 million, in turn led major players -- including Clorox Co. and SCJohnson -- to launch or buy their own natural-cleaning brands and, in an effort at corporate consistency, disclose more information about what's in the rest of their products.

It might be easy to laugh off the issue. After all, the Household Product Labeling and Disclosure Act was sponsored by a comedian (Sen. Al Franken was among the authors) and backed by what many saw as a funny video (Method's viral "Shiny Suds," which was yanked off the internet after critics found the ad sexist). Congress never moved the bill out of committee, but marketers nonetheless are taking ingredient disclosure increasingly seriously.

As Clorox launched Green Works and SCJ bought natural cleaner brand Mr. . Meyers in 2008, both companies also joined with others in the industry to start voluntarily disclosing information about ingredients in their products either online, via toll-free hotlines or on labels. The two companies have since poured on more transparency.

Late last year, SCJ in a TV and digital campaign from DraftFCB, vowed to disclose all ingredients for its cleaning and air-freshening products on labels by 2012, including dyes and perfumes. That goes one up even on Method, which promises not to use toxic ingredients but doesn't disclose the exact makeup of natural fragrances for competitive reasons. Other SCJ ingredients were already disclosed at

Clorox beat SCJ to the punch, beginning earlier this month, by listing all the fragrance and dye ingredients for its products online. But it hasn't yet pledged to put those ingredients on product labels. One likely reason: The ingredient list at, which isn't broken down by product, numbers more than 1,200.

Despite all this disclosure, Method is staying on the offensive. One new ad titled "Dear chemically dependent moms" from Droga5 says, "the habit you've developed is harmful to you and the people you love." In a seeming nod to Procter & Gamble Co.'s "Proud Sponsor of Moms" campaign of last year, Method's ad goes on: "We're sure you're a good mom, and we'd be proud to be your sponsor" in staying away from "temptation" to use "dangerous substances."

Eric Ryan, co-founder and chief brand architect at Method, expects the ads to provoke some blowback.

"I do think we're reaching a tipping point where [ingredients] are being talked about," Mr. Ryan said. "I think it's funny when people say, 'By 2012, we're going to say what's in it.' Well, why don't you say what's in it now?"

But some ads built around one cleaner being less harmful than another have gotten into murky water legally. In a ruling last year, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, acting on a complaint by P&G about a Seventh Generation ad, found no evidence that, when both were used as directed, Seventh Generation products were safer than competing cleaners.

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