Burt’s Bees Takes On Unnatural Ingredients

Discussion
Feb 06, 2008

By George Anderson

It’s not unusual for one brand to claim superiority over another using comparative advertising. In the case of the new ad campaign from Burt’s Bees, however, there is a twist in that the brand points out the differences in the ingredients of competing products without mentioning them by name.

Mike Indursky, the chief marketing and strategic officer at Burt’s Bees, told AdAge.com, “You see brands attack other brands. We’d never want to do that. What we want to do is show one ingredient vs. another ingredient.”

The Burt’s Bees approach involves making a distinction between its “natural” ingredients versus the “synthetic” formulas of competing products.

One ad involves comparing the beeswax used in Burt’s Bees products to petrolatum found in conventional products. According to the ad, beeswax is a “naturally replenishing moisturizer” that comes from bees while petrolatum is made from “crude oil.”

Another message compares Burt’s use of “milk and honey” as ingredients in its body lotion to a preservative used by other products that can release formaldehyde.

Stacy Malkan, at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, told NPR’s Marketplace that Burt’s Bees’ ads are provocative but convey messages that are important for consumers to hear.

“There’s growing consumer demand for safer and non-toxic products, and companies that are making safer products need to find a way to let consumers know that,” she said.

The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) thinks that Burt’s Bees ads are misleading by suggesting that natural ingredients are somehow safer and/or more effective than synthetics.

The PCPC’s John Bailey said Burt’s claims are “not supported by the science and the record in the marketplace for these products.”

Discussion Questions: Is Burt’s Bees on the right track with its new ad campaign? Is drawing attention to specific “natural” ingredients wise? Is it likely to convert consumers who currently use conventional beauty products to the Burt’s Bees brand?

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11 Comments on "Burt’s Bees Takes On Unnatural Ingredients"


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Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Kudos to Clorox for finding a live consumer nerve. Nothing wrong with that. To those finding their guar gum gored–well, as Richard Daly once said of Chicago politics, “This ain’t tiddly winks we’re playing here….”

But there is a more concerning side to this. Burt’s Bees ads play off the fact that the consumer is only half-educated. They know they like the sound of “bee’s wax, milk and honey,” but they don’t understand that everything is “natural” at some level. “Synthesized” does not mean “created out of thin air.” It all starts with something “all natural” somewhere!

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
14 years 3 months ago

There are hundreds of products available today that make the natural claim. that being said, every one has a different definition of what being truly natural really is. Clorox has made a smart move to use the quality of the ingredients to help differentiate themselves. This will work as long as they always make certain that their ingredients are superior.

This could backfire on them if another well-funded company (Hain’s Jason?) start to tout that their product ingredients are even better than Burt’s Bees. It is okay to claim superiority, but once you do, you always have to be certain that you can consistently support the claim.

Bonny Baldwin
Guest
Bonny Baldwin
14 years 3 months ago

I think this ad campaign is smart. Certainly everything is natural at SOME level, and some natural ingredients are harmful depending on their context and concentration. Yet there are compelling arguments for learning about the products you apply to your skin as they will get absorbed into your body and also released into the environment. For instance, I don’t think anyone anticipated that certain synthetic musk fragrances would get washed down drains, be released into marine environments, and end up in the flesh of fish.

Sometimes the argument for items closer to nature is simply that we’ve had more time to see their effects and interactive properties. Product safety is relative to what we know at the time; we’re all exposed to tons of chemistry in modern life, and maybe the combined, cumulative use of, say, a particular synthetic fragrance, deodorant, hair dye and diet soda will make a person sick IF they also give manicures and have vinyl siding on their house. Who’d recognize what was going on?

Joel Stoeker
Guest
Joel Stoeker
14 years 3 months ago

This specific strategy was used in the 80s by Breyer’s ice cream. In TV ads they specifically showed a consumer reading the ingredients of a competitors ice cream (“…locust bean gum?”) and then listed Breyers’ ingredients, “Milk, cream, sugar, strawberries.”

I believe that it was a pretty successful campaign.

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Drawing comparisons between specific ingredients and making “we’re more natural than you” claims, as Burt’s Bees is doing, could open a can of worms. Many cosmetics companies, for example, are using mineral components and attempting to stake out the ‘natural’ high ground with those ingredients, as well. So apparently, the definition of natural can extend beyond plant derivatives. Why are products processed from petroleum (essentially decomposed organic material) ‘unnatural’? The more you delve into these details, the shakier the logic. Better to keep things vague.

Sue Nicholls
Guest
Sue Nicholls
14 years 3 months ago

I’d rather lather in beeswax than in crude oil any day. Consumers who truly want to understand what is going on (or in) their bodies will appreciate that Burt’s is trying to do. Consumer education is key, and Burt’s is brilliant for educating on the “natural” contents vs. most other products.

Ken Yee
Guest
Ken Yee
14 years 3 months ago

Never been a fan of organic vs. non-organic or natural vs. synthetic. Both types of products and processes have their good and bad points.

One things for sure, most purveyors of the Organic/Natural side seem to be much more high brow, even though the vast majority of those products can be just as manufactured, fabricated and combined with other ingredients as synthetic products.

If anything, nothing seems more processed, purified, chemically concentrated and unnatural than your typical prescription drug. Powder, pill, ointment, injection you name it…yet those (for the most part) improve your health.

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
14 years 3 months ago

Isn’t intelligent communication about a product’s properties and benefits significantly better than advertising built around pretty people, good music and silly slogans?

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 3 months ago

From the bee’s knees to people’s BVDs, consumers want to know the real beeswax about products. So let’s Bee-gin the Beguine and tell folks (that’s responding to consumer demand) what’s inside the goods.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Natural products are hot right now. Burt’s Bees is 1) Responding to consumer demand, and 2) Differentiating itself from its competition. Both are sound marketing practices. For the PCPC to cry foul seems a little unnatural.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Burt’s Bees “natural” positioning has been used by HBA marketers for over a century. Many patent medicines and cosmetics sold by itinerant hucksters in the 1800s were positioned having natural herbs. There was another resurgence around World War I and again in the 1930s, with many famous actress endorsements. Doesn’t “natural” sound better than “our product comes from insect spit”? Because that’s what honey is.

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