The brand that dares not speak its name

The brand that dares not speak its name

30th April 2015208Views11Comments
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Plant graphic courtesy of Shutterstock

Remember subliminal advertising? One of the books that exposed it is Subliminal Seduction, by Wilson Brian Key. The examples in the book use the eternal themes of sex and death to sell products. According to the book, imagery evoking these two themes appears in advertising (often deliberately inserted), thus linking commercial products to humankind’s essential preoccupations.

I don’t know if the word “sex” is being embedded in ice cubes to sell vodka any more. It seems kind of akin to thinking that you’ll hear secret messages by playing Led Zeppelin backwards. But there is no question that big alcohol, big ag, big pharm, and other such corporations are more successful when they avoid straight talk about what they do. Scenes of beautiful landscapes with maybe some kids or a couple walking hand-in-hand are equally useful to sell health insurance, financial planning, energy companies, or mood stabilizers. Subtle is better, subliminal might even be best. And now we hear that Scotts Miracle-Gro is looking at different ways of presenting its marquee brand.

According to an article in the New York Times last week, the company is focusing on community gardens, family members passing along plants, birds, butterflies, tomatoes, and more. No more plants becoming bigger and better like magic any more, and barely any mention of the actual product. As a creative director explains:

“You can’t get people into the category through functional benefits because they’re not even growing yet,” Ms. Skelly said. “We had to shift the conversation from what we’re doing for plants to what we’re doing for people.”

It makes total sense. That’s how gardening products should be sold—through convincing people of the joy of gardening, which has nothing to do with what you pour into the soil or spray on a plant. Ad agencies have long known that pictures of the Grand Canyon look better than oil pipelines and a cowboy riding the range is far more attractive than a cigarette smoldering in an ashtray.

You have to wonder what took them so long.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on March 3, 2014 at 8:00 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Taking Your Gardening Dollar.


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  1. totally agree. And it pains me to say, b/c Scotts MG IS the devil – but good for them. Of course they’re doing it to make money but if it’s by creating more gardeners, great.

  2. Kind of a double-edged sword for me here. On the one hand I agree with you (and previous commenters) that Scott’s and MG are not a “good” thing, but if their advertising gets more people involved in gardening, maybe that’s a good thing? I’m torn on this one.

  3. RE: posters above me: But convincing people the joy of gardening is easily obtained through products that are eventually a detriment to the soil & environment is the wrong way to go about it. Hasn’t this been the rail against SMG all along?

  4. Yes, I understand everything is made up of elements, i.e., “chemicals”. However, I think it’s been discussed on GR (and other sites) before that when discussing gardening, “chemicals” is understood to mean artificially-produced, engineered, or non-organic materials (ammonium sulfate, RoundUp, SMG, etc). “Organic” is presumed to be the opposite — naturally-produced, not using/containing artificially-made materials.

  5. I’ve been so traumatized by marketing “experts” and “ad men” that I now become nauseated every time I hear the word “brand”. Marketers, just, please, tell me why I should part with hard-earned cash to purchase whatever you’re selling and don’t do it by trying to convince me that I or my yard will become attractive to some voluptuous young vixen that I can’t keep up with anyway at my age. Let’s convince people that home gardening is good by sponsoring side-by-side comparisons of a strawberry from the supermarket and from a local garden.

  6. It really does people a huge disservice to show them the garden ‘lifestyle’ without including both the physical and mental work and personal integrity it takes to have one. These newly converted gardeners are set up to fail which doesn’t produce a garden lover in the end but a dissallusioned and disappointed person.
    I am hopeful that people might be starting to clue in to the fact that insta-anything might not be the way to go, that gardens are not photographs, that our small gardens can solve big problems like polluted water and disappearing habitat, not create them.

  7. Me too: distrust SMG and won’t use their products, but like the descriptions of the stories they’ll be telling in their new ad campaign. But I wonder if the experienced gardeners they feature actually used those products, or if the paycheck was too good to pass up.

  8. Many folks want to be gardeners without doing the work; want to be Eric Clapton without practicing chords; want to be Bruce Lee without punching the bag. These commercials take advantage of such people by implying (or outright claiming) that it is possible.

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