It's doubtful the two men meeting in San Francisco in 1971 had any idea they'd be responsible for birthing one of the best-known logos in advertising history.

Dukes Wooters, dynamic, hard-charging president and chief executive officer of Cotton Incorporated, looking for an image to help convert cotton from a pedestrian agricultural commodity into an identifiable consumer brand, called on Walter Landor, the legendary German designer who was a pioneer in the field of “branding.” Company clients have included KFC, Frito-Lay, Microsoft, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Xerox.

Landor (who died in 1995) subsequently presented 12 designs to Cotton Incorporated. A story in Sternbusiness, the publication of New York University's Stern Business School, recalls:

“The chosen design for the Seal of Cotton — one that Landor's daughter, Susan, had conceived, would become one of the most successful trademarks in the annals of marketing. It was simple and engaging: a white cotton boll, rising up from the two Ts of the word ‘cotton,’ laid against a background of earth-tone brown.

“The seal… almost instantly gave cotton a new identity, making a deep impact on public awareness — a rare masterpiece of graphic design-as-communication. The design conveyed several positive messages: If nature was good, then cotton was good. Cotton had roots, but it also had bloom. Cotton was pure, soft, comforting, and natural. Cotton was something familiar that you wanted to have and keep around. From its inception, the seal would stand at the center of an intensive and innovative advertising campaign designed to ‘pull’ cotton back into consumer consciousness.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the launching of the Seal of Cotton.

Within a year of its introduction, the seal was recognized by 18 percent of consumers. Three years later, it had jumped to 46 percent. In 1978, it topped 50 percent, and today more than eight of 10 consumers can identify it. In the U.S. and worldwide, it's right up there with Coca-Cola, Kodak, and other instantly-recognizable logos.

The seal now serves as the focal point and central visual element around which all of CI's industry/consumer promotions are based, and is a part of the wildly successful “The Fabric of Our Lives” advertising campaign. In 2003, it is estimated that more than 166 million apparel/home fabric items will carry the seal. (It's also featured on the nation's largest-selling laundry detergent, Tide, a product engineered for maximum effectiveness with cotton fabrics.) The biggest-ever agreement for use of the seal was signed in 1997 with Martha Stewart for her Silver Label Collection 100 percent cotton bed sheets.

“Today, more than ever, consumers demand value and quality in the apparel and home fashions they buy,” says J. Berrye Worsham, current president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated. “The Seal of Cotton enhances the fact that the 100-percent cotton products they purchase will meet those expectations. Each impression made reinforces consumer recognition of cotton apparel and home textiles and has an impact on the overall demand for cotton and its products.”

America's cotton producers, whose check-off funds support Cotton Incorporated's research/promotion programs, can take justifiable pride in the organization's successes — much among them the Seal of Cotton.