The newest commercials touting “The Feel of Cotton” are right on target. On target, that is, if you are a female consumer between the ages of 18 and 34.

“If you feel like the new commercials aren't really targeted to you, you'd be right,” says J. Berrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated in Cary, N.C. “We want the commercials to appeal to men and women of all ages, but we need to maximize the marketable impact with the budget available to us. We must target our best consumers to sell our cotton products, and those are female consumers between the ages of 18 and 34.”

An in-depth study of consumers' purchasing behavior, their attitudes toward fashions and cottons, and their feelings about advertising told the cotton promotion organization to target women between the ages of 18 and 34.

“Women buy over 80 percent of all apparel and home furnishings, and many of life's firsts happen to women between the ages of 18 and 34. They often get their first job and their first apartment, get married, have their first baby and buy their first house during this period,” Worsham says. “Each of these major events involves a heightened interest in learning new things and in purchasing textile products.”

The two new “Feel of Cotton” commercials, which premiered Presidents' Day weekend during the Olympics, feature people at work, and at play in a hotel setting, dressed in fashionable, dressy casual cotton clothing.

Self-expression

Using a real office and hotel, instead of a studio set, allows Cotton Incorporated to showcase a wide variety of different people all in the same kind of dressy casual cotton wear, and all dancing. Because clothing is a form of self-expression, the creators of the commercials pushed that idea of self-expression through dance.

The commercials feature the currently popular dj-remixed dance music. “We have kept the core cotton music but we are just expressing it in a new and different way that will hopefully get your foot tapping,” says Michael Kelley, western regional manager for Cotton Incorporated.

In keeping with the feel of the new commercials, the taglines for the still-running familiar commercials have been changed to “Red, white and blue jeans,” for the denim spots, and “It's cotton or nothing,” for the underwear promos.

The commercials are being run predominantly on the WB and UPN networks during those shows that traditionally attract young female viewers, such as Charmed, Dawson's Creek, Felicity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Friends.

Worsham says, “We're running our television commercials predominantly on shows that appeal to women 18 to 34, and our network of choice is the WB. We want to reach women younger than 34 whenever possible and the WB's viewers are a median age of 29. Also important to our schedule is the UPN network, which has an audience with an average age of 33.”

“Another layer of our strategic usage of television is the soap opera,” he says. “The developing female viewers of these “The developing female viewers of these dramas shop for themselves, their spouses and their children on a regular basis. You will also see cotton commercials showing up on a variety of entertainment and lifestyle networks during primetime to showcase cotton advertising for bigger audiences.”

Build demand

“The focus of these commercials is to build consumer demand and sell the story of American upland cotton,” says Kelley.

According to Kelley, cotton's share of the total retail and home furnishings market was 66 percent in the 1960s, but by 1975, that number had fallen to a record low 34 percent.

If this trend had continued, he says, cotton's market share could have fallen to well under 20 percent by the 1990s. “In response to the declining market, Congress passed the Cotton Research and Promotion Act, and things began turning around quickly with the advent of a commercial advertising program.”

Despite this apparent turn-around, Kelley says he's concerned that the emerging youth market won't have any preference for cotton products without continued efforts to shape the preferences of women and youth.

A recent Texas A & M study found that for every dollar that is spent on cotton promotion, producers get a $6 return in sales of American products. Another study found that every dollar put into cotton promotion returns a $4.60 benefit to cotton producers.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com