Attack Ads Are Nothing New, Except When They're About Grass Seed

Usually we don’t hear businesses attacking their competitors in ads.  That dark world is dominated by politicians who will say just about anything for a vote.  But now, months removed from elections, we’re getting hit with Pennington’s claim that Scotts Miracle Grow is half seed and half filler while their product is 100% seed.  Ouch.  I feel Scotts’ pain.

It’s a very nice strategy.  After all, who wouldn’t want to spend their money on a full bag of seed, right?  They basically planted a nice seed in the buyer’s mind that there was more to think about than just the name.

Ah, but Scotts is too big to take such a challenge (and such a powerful one at that) lying in the grass.  Within weeks, Scotts launched two radio spots explaining that their grass seed is coated with an exclusive product that allows it to absorb water and thus work better. It’s not filler, but rather advanced technology that you’d expect from the leader.


So whose grass is greener?  When all is said and done, I think both companies win, but with Pennington’s gaining the most ground.

Pennington’s could have just talked intelligently about their seed, but that would have been a big waste.  If they had focused on their own quality, they would have found buyers who simply wanted a less expensive alternative to Scotts and felt confident that, thanks to the message, Pennington’s could deliver on their quality promise.  In essence, this type of advertising would have only earned Pennington’s those buyers who were willing to take their chances on a lower priced seed.  That’s not a good strategy for any type of growth.  Cheap people are fickle, and the competition for this cheap market is, well, cheap.  It’s hard to grow a business when you’re going for the lowest part of the market.  The other guy will just keep lowering the price.

If Pennington’s ran this type of informative advertising instead of attacking Scotts, they would have still found themselves competing in a crowded field of also-rans since buyers could choose from not only Pennington’s, but from all the other seed makers who have a lower price.  Would Pennington’s intelligent message sway people at the moment of purchase, when a few dollars here or there will make the difference?  Probably not enough to make the radio buys worth it.  If people are going to buy on price, then price is practically all that matters — even if there’s some intelligent message about the quality of the seed.  After all, doesn’t every seed manufacturer claim their seeds are good quality?  And what do we, the average Joe’s buying the stuff, know about quality seed anyway?  If we’re going to spend a few extra bucks, might as well get Scotts and be sure.

Unless someone gives the buyers a reason not to trust the expensive guy, which is exactly what Pennington’s did.  As with campaign ads, whether the message is wrong or right doesn’t matter.  What matters is how the consumers file it all away.

Quite simply, advertising isn’t about intelligent talk (just look at campaign ads for proof), and Pennington’s knows it.  Rather, good advertising about carving out a solid position in the market so that buyers can easily identify with your product.  It’s about grabbing a spot in the buyer’s brain that is valued more than the price.  It’s about giving people a good reason to select you over others.

In the grass seed market, there are many competitors.  What Pennington’s did was shrink this market down to just their company and Scotts with the rest of the competitors left to fight for the “cheap” buyer.  Pennington’s insisted on throwing their hat into Scotts ring.  By doing so, they immediately get credit as the next best seed maker or, if Scotts didn’t respond, the best.

So no longer is it Scotts, the expensive but proven seed, and the rest.  It’s Scotts and Pennington’s taking the quality seed route (with Pennington’s being a bit cheaper) and the rest of the competitors fighting for the bottom. This is easy for seed buyers to understand, and believe.

Scotts, on the other hand, used the door that was left wide open by Pennington’s to pitch their unique position — seeds that are coated for better growth with less water.

So stay tuned to see how this all turns out.  And let us know if you see this happening elsewhere — except for election advertising (we see those all the time).