‘Seal’ Campaigns and Cause Marketing

‘Seal’ campaigns defy easy categorization in cause marketing. They’ve been around forever. Witness the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance which dates from 1930.

Strictly speaking seal campaigns are a kind of licensing deal. Generally they involve pre-set criteria and or testing.

(The even older Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval was begun by the eponymous magazine in 1900 and the Underwriter’s Laboratories first opened their doors in 1894. Both were founded as for-profit entities).

If your product or service meets the criteria and passes applicable tests you are eligible to apply to display the seal of approval/acceptance. Usually the license involves a fee, sometimes a hefty one.

And like sponsoring the Olympics, all paying the licensing fee does is give you the right to spend more money on activating the deal! If most cause marketing is a kind of partnership, seal campaigns are more like a business deal.

For the most part if you meet the criteria and pay your fee, what you get from the provider of the seal is a contract, a logo, and a usage guide.

The handful of seal providers that publish magazines might also periodically list the companies or products that received their seal. Interestingly, the Campbell's Healthy Request ad at left appeared in Arthritis Today, the official organ of the Arthritis Foundation, which itself offers a seal of approval to products that meet its criteria for ease of use by people with arthritis.

If you’re a sponsor, you have to decide what it’s worth to display a seal from a reputable provider. But if you’re a charity or an association, especially in the health field, it might be worth it to develop a seal campaign.

The ADA, Underwriter’s Laboratory and, to a degree, Good Housekeeping maintain laboratories and physically test items. The ADA tests to see if items in question do what they profess to do. UL famously tests for safety. Since items that bear the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval carry a 2-year warranty, Good Housekeeping tests for efficacy.

But your seal campaign needn’t require a laboratory. I’d bet that the American Heart Association certification only requires that Campbell’s contractually assert that its Healthy Request soups fall within the guidelines the organization has set for sodium, cholesterol and fat per serving. I’d be surprised to learn that the Heart Association actually tests Campbell’s Healthy Request soups.

Likewise, the certification of the Burt’s Bees toothpaste from the Natural Products Association probably only requires the company to legally declare that the ingredients in the toothpaste meet the Association’s criteria as natural.

This is not to say the certifications from the Heart Association or Natural Products are unscientific or illegitimate in any way. You can bet that the American Heart Association has spent tens of millions of dollars determining acceptable amounts of sodium and fat and cholesterol in food. The American Heart Association’s seal campaign helps them leverage that research.

Could your nonprofit launch a seal effort? Does it possess key scientific understanding that could be monetized with a seal? Feel free to share you thoughts on seal campaigns.

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