Scotts Miracle-Gro Company
Scotts Miracle-Gro Company
14111 Scottslawn Road
Marysville, Ohio 43041
Telephone: (937) 644-0011
Web site: www.scotts.com
NEIGHBOR TO NEIGHBOR CAMPAIGN
The Scotts Company, later to be named Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, had been a leading manufacturer of lawn-and garden-care products since 1868. It sold grass seed, fertilizers, herbicides, and potting soils from its family of brands, which included Ortho, Miracle-Gro, Hyponex, and Turf Builder. Even though it was one of the largest garden and indoor plant-care companies in America, Scotts's marketing efforts floundered during the early 1990s. After Scotts acquired Miracle-Gro in 1995, the founder of Miracle-Gro, Horace Hagerdon, helped solidify the Scotts brand and orchestrated the removal of Scotts CEO Theodore J. Host, whom Hagerdon considered ineffective. Hoping to improve sales and further build the Scotts brand, Scotts released its "Neighbor to Neighbor" campaign.
Created by the ad agencies Wolf Group and Partners & Shevack, the $2 million campaign began in 1996. The budget was soon increased to $20 million. The campaign initially entailed television and radio spots, but in 2003 it expanded with print executions. "Neighbor to Neighbor" featured real customers who raved about their successes in attaining a lush, green yard by using different Scotts products. Each of the television commercials focused on a specific Scotts lawn-care product, and they incorporated humor to make the often intimidating task of lawn care seem less threatening. The advertisements also all included Scotts's formal guarantee of its products' efficacy. The company viewed the guarantee as "more of a promise than a traditional tag line," as Gordon Hecker, Scotts's vice president of advertising, told Adweek. Scotts recognized that "consumers depend on the company for advice on lawns and gardening, as well as for the product." In 2003 the Wolf Group, by then the sole agency handling the Scotts account, closed its doors, and the campaign continued under the ML Rogers Agency.
Although the campaign scored unusually low on USA Today's Ad Track consumer survey, "Neighbor to Neighbor" was deemed a success by Scotts and its agencies. The campaign garnered some ad-industry awards and helped Scotts increase its sales by double digits throughout a majority of the campaign.
By the time Scotts inaugurated "Neighbor to Neighbor," it was already the market leader in the consumer lawn-care industry. Founded in 1868 by O.M. Scott, the company had initially introduced its Turf Builder fertilizer in 1928. Despite this long history, however, Scotts's marketing efforts had been chaotic before it teamed up with ad agency Partners & Shevack. Although it was a national brand, for many years Scotts poured most of its media dollars into scattershot local and regional ads. Using taglines such as "The Scotts Difference," the company often stressed the science behind its products rather than their uses in everyday life. People were absent from most of the commercials, which relied heavily on animated drawings that depicted the nitrogen of Scotts's fertilizers nourishing a lawn. The company's efforts to connect directly with consumers were also thwarted by its tendency to rely on a network of retailers to market its products and by its slim profit margins.
Scotts's fate changed in 1995, however, when the company acquired Miracle-Gro, a flourishing plant-food company that had used savvy marketing to its advantage. "It was a classic case of a lean entrepreneurial company indirectly taking over a sluggish old tortoise company," explained Forbes magazine. Miracle-Gro's enthusiastic founder and chief, Horace Hagerdon, exerted a powerful influence over his new parent company. "The truth of the matter is, Scotts didn't buy Miracle-Gro … we bought Scotts," he proudly told the Wall Street Journal. After Theodore J. Host, then Scotts's CEO, implemented a disastrous marketing scheme that resulted in the company having to restate its 1996 earnings (which promptly led to a 16 percent drop in its stock price), Hagerdon engineered to have him replaced by Charles Berger, a former H.G. Heinz executive. Berger had big plans for the company, which included expanding its presence in the marketplace. "I'd like to create the Procter & Gamble of law and garden," he revealed to the Columbus Dispatch. Thus, 1996 was a rebuilding year ("a memorable year we'd like to forget," as Berger told the Dispatch), in which the company reported a loss of $2.5 million. One of Berger's first steps was to restructure Scotts and its marketing program. He chose to emphasize the consumer lawn business, which then accounted for about one-third of Scotts's revenues, and it was during this transition period that "Neighbor to Neighbor" was initiated.
Another of Berger's innovations was to target Scotts's lawn-care advertising at the people who actually bought the products. "I restored a consumer orientation to the company," he told the Columbus Dispatch. The primary vehicle for this change was the "Neighbor to Neighbor" campaign. It had a wide audience to reach. The company wanted to persuade homeowners across racial and demographic lines to try Turf Builder and its siblings. In addition to capturing consumers from other brands, Scotts sought to bring lawn-care novices into the Scotts fold. The profit potential for this strategy was considerable. According to Forbes, Americans spent an astonishing $2.7 billion on lawn and garden products each year. The consumers of such products were skewed slightly toward males, according to Partners & Shevack's Tim Roan. Instead of hiring actors, Partners & Shevack commissioned genuine Scotts's customers, whom it discovered on scouting trips through leafy residential neighborhoods. Out went the drawings of nitrogen molecules. In their place were impassioned, and often quirky, Scotts users who conveyed the benefits the company's products had brought them. The "Neighbor to Neighbor" stars were excited about their lawns and even more excited about the Scotts products that made their grass greener and thicker. The commercials showcased an array of lawn aficionados that included people of different ages and races and both men and women. In the spots Scotts's impromptu spokespeople were interviewed standing on lawns in front of everyday houses in everyday neighborhoods. The "Neighbor to Neighbor" theme expressed the idea that these folks with impossibly green grass were "just like you" and "just like your neighbor."
In addition to encouraging viewers to relate to the spokespeople, "Neighbor to Neighbor" strove to make lawn care less intimidating. Many people limited their lawn-care activities to mowing and watering because anything more extensive was often perceived as requiring arcane knowledge possessed only by a few. Much of the advice available to would-be homeowners seemed designed to perpetuate this myth. A lawn-care article published in the Des Moines Register, for instance, discussed such seemingly complicated concepts as "fertilization regimes that vary for different types of grasses and lawn use" and suggested that people's lawns would benefit if they raked "about one-quarter inch of compost or aged manure onto the lawn each spring and fall." Assuming that anyone had made it that far, the article went on to discuss raking, mulching, and aerating techniques. "Neighbor to Neighbor" was the antithesis of this sort of approach. In the spots Scotts's products were depicted as easy to use and effective. "In late spring, I put [Turf Builder with Plus 2 Weed Control] in my spreader, [and] a couple of days later the weeds are looking sick and the lawn's looking green," one satisfied Scotts's customer related in a television spot.
ALL SCOTTS, ALL THE TIME
According to Partners & Shevack's Tim Roan, Scotts's marketing efforts made up 80 percent of the lawn-care industry's total 1998 advertising. This dominance played a major part in helping Scott expand its lead in the lucrative industry and ensured that the company outpaced its rivals.
Scotts's efforts to build its brand met with little concerted resistance. For the most part the lawn-care business was a "regionalized, fragmented industry," according to the Columbus Dispatch. Scotts's closest competitor was Vigoro, which was acquired in 1998 by Alabama-based Pursell Industries. Once a more powerful brand, Vigoro's market share had fallen far behind Scotts's. In 1997 Vigoro sought to return to the national stage and challenge Scotts. As part of this strategy, Vigoro entered into a relationship with the popular Home Depot chain, which had more than 500 stores across the United States and which attracted the sort of consumers most likely to lavish time and energy (and money) on their lawns. As a part of the arrangement, Home Depot obtained the exclusive right to sell Vigoro's line of lawn-care products. The deal proved to be a boon for Vigoro, as Scotts quickly discovered that its high-profile advertising—which motivated customers to think about lawn care and drove them into megastores like Home Depot—could actually run the risk of boosting the sales of its competitors. Although Vigoro did not pursue the same sort of national and regional marketing efforts as Scotts did, it did have considerable support from the staff at Home Depot. Because Vigoro was Home Depot's private-label brand, the chain's employees were more apt to recommend the slightly less expensive Vigoro over Scotts. In-store displays and shelf arrangements also aided Vigoro's Home Depot sales.
Pursell produced a number of other lawn-care products as well. In addition to manufacturing private-label brands for Kmart and Lowe's, Pursell produced Sam's Choice Lawn Food for Wal-Mart and a line of six organic garden fertilizers sold in the Martha Stewart Everyday gardening line at Kmart. In 1996 Pursell achieved $100 million in sales. To support is flagship product, the Sta-Green brand, Pursell ran 60-second commercials on the Home and Garden cable television network in 1996. Its primary target was aging baby boomers, who were apt to spend more time on lawn maintenance and gardening.
Scotts had two overarching goals for the "Neighbor to Neighbor" campaign. The company wanted to drive sales of its Turf Builder line and to strengthen the entire Scotts brand. Before it launched its barrage of consumer-centered advertisements, Scotts was perceived primarily as a "fertilizer company," Hecker told the Columbus Dispatch. The impetus behind "Neighbor to Neighbor" was to transform Scotts into a "consumer branded company." The television spots did much to further this goal. With their almost paternalistic tones, the spots presented the company as a knowledgeable neighbor offering advice not only about which brand to use but also about how to care for a lawn. Furthermore, by airing "Neighbor to Neighbor" nationally during prime-time shows and sports telecasts and on a variety of cable programs, Scotts strove to make more consumers aware of the brand. In the commercials Scotts positioned itself not just as a fertilizer company but also as a "lawn educator." Of course, this kind of saturation strategy required considerable expenditures. Although "Neighbor to Neighbor" was initially budgeted at only $2 million, by 1998 Scotts, which recognized that brand building required expensive, high-exposure media buys, was dedicating $20 million to the campaign.
Scotts complemented the brand-oriented television commercials with radio spots that were geared more toward stimulating the sales of specific products. Ashton Ritchey, the voice behind the radio commercials, advised listeners on which Scotts product was ideal for lawn care "this weekend." The spots, which ran in 78 markets, allowed Scotts to focus its message and closely tie its product recommendations to season and climate, since different products were obviously needed to care for a lawn in Maine in September as opposed to a lawn in Florida in June. According to Tim Roan of Partners & Shevack, the radio component of the campaign was especially effective because it "created urgency" and sent listeners into stores intent on buying specific products.
In 1998 Scotts coordinated its television and radio components in an innovative move to increase its fertilizer sales. Most homeowners typically fertilized their lawns in the spring, which resulted in a 10-week buying period for the company's fertilizer offerings each year. In an effort to increase its Turf Builder sales, Scotts promoted its products from Labor Day until October, a strategy "which hardly anyone had done before," noted Forbes. The "Three Amigos" TV commercial was part of this effort. In it, real-life customers named Jay, Al, and Rich advocated fertilizing with Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Fertilizer in autumn. The spot closed as the words "A Great Fall Lawn. Guaranteed" appeared on the screen. The maneuver was only one example of Scotts's foray into new territories. As the uncontested market leader, its growth potential was limited if it aimed only to cannibalize consumers from its rivals. Through user-friendly commercials played in heavy rotation, the company sought to bring new consumers into the lawn-care industry and to encourage existing consumers to think about their lawn-care needs in new ways. As Berger told Forbes, Scotts's underlying agenda was to "grow the total market dynamically and then take all the growth."
In 1999 Scotts executives feared that the branding campaign was not explaining enough about the product. "We had to develop new informative packaging to help consumers better identify the right product for their own lawns," Scotts senior vice president Gordon Hecker said in Advertising Age. To solve the problem without loading the television spots down with product information, tear-off fliers were distributed at selling points.
Ashton Ritchie, the voice behind Scotts radio spots for six years, began appearing in television spots in 2002. Scotts executives and even Ritchie were not sure if he was the right choice. "I think the TV commercial is a surprise to some people," Ritchie said in the Columbus Dispatch. "After all, it's common knowledge here I have the face for radio." Jeff Williamson, the senior vice president and associate creative director for the Wolf Group, insisted that Ritchie's approachable deposition was perfect for the brand.
Because of the American military invasion of Iraq in 2003, advertisers reduced their ad spending, especially during news time. In contrast Scotts increased marketing expenditures by 20 percent and, because of discounted advertising rates, was able to purchase more airtime than it could have before the war. The campaign also expanded with inspirational print ads that read, "Green is part of the dream" to celebrate the fertilizer Turf Builder's 75-year anniversary. The campaign continued into 2006.
The company achieved its 1998 goal of convincing customers to shift from the traditional spring-only pattern to year-round lawn fertilization. According to Discount Store News, Scotts's sales of fertilizer during the fall of 1998 "went through the roof," growing 50 percent. Hecker explained to Adweek how these outstanding gains had come about. "We've been able to experience these double-digit increases really without a lot of new products. It's come through more marketing." Partners & Shevack's accomplishments in conceiving the "Neighbor to Neighbor" campaign were recognized by the advertising industry, with the firm receiving a 1998 EFFIE Award for its work.
Even though the campaign bolstered sales for Scotts, the commercials were not necessarily popular with the general public. Only 13 percent of those surveyed by USA Today's Ad Track consumer poll liked the spots "a lot," versus the poll average of 21 percent. Lee Reichart, vice president of advertising for Scotts, explained to USA Today that the company did not consider the low score to be extremely important. "For people who aren't involved in caring for lawns, this has no relevance," he stated. Scotts's sales for lawn products had increased from $280 million in 1996 to $525 million in 2002.
In January 2004 the Wolf Group, by then the only agency creating advertising for the $80 million Scotts account, closed its doors because of financial problems at its Toronto headquarters. Mike Rogers, who was once president of the Wolf Group's New York office, quickly founded the new ad agency ML Rogers. He then recruited most of his previous Wolf Group employees and continued the "Neighbor to Neighbor" campaign. "We were informed that Wolf was shutting down on a Friday morning, and by Monday morning, Mike was up and running," Bill Burke, Scotts vice president of marketing services, told Adweek. "Mike really made the transition seamless for us." The campaign continued into 2006.
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Fowler, Veronica. "Grow the Perfect Lawn." Des Moines Register, April 18, 1999.
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Howell, Debbie. "Savvy Marketing Feeds Fertilizer Sales." Discount Store News, April 5, 1999.
Jaffe, Thomas. "Lean Green Machine: A Few Years Ago, Scotts Co. Was a Slow Moving Company." Forbes, November 16, 1998.
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