Mystifying Marketing

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Mystifying Marketing

I was driving down the road recently when I heard a radio ad from one of the box stores–Lowe’s, I think–and its newly arrived shipment of colorful hibiscus. The ad was the same old, same old, but what struck me as particularly ludicrous was the come-on: “Come into Lowe’s garden store, where we just received a delivery of 10-inch hibiscus plants with colorful blooms … the greatest thing since sliced bread … yada, yada.”

Personally, I understand the message. But I wondered if others listening would be a little perplexed. So I asked my daughter Laura what she thought about the ad. She hit on the confusion right away. “Dad, are they annual or perennial?” She had seen many perennial hibiscus in landscapes, as well as beautiful gift hibiscus in hospital shops and florists. I told her I didn’t know, but I expect they were the gift ones.

Then she asked: “And they’re only 10 inches tall? I don’t want to spend my money on something that will take all summer to get some size.”

Therein lies the rub: What in God’s green earth are consumers supposed to think about a 10-inch hibiscus? We know the suppliers are referring to the size of the pot (at least I think they are), but what gardener or homeowner envisions a tall, healthy hibiscus when all she hears is “10 inch?” Wouldn’t Laura have been turned on a lot more by hearing about the plant’s vigor? Wouldn’t “in a jumbo-sized pot” have been better–if the stupid pot size even had to be mentioned at all?

I don’t know if the pot was black, green or stenciled, but I sure know nobody is going to rush into the store to see a 10-inch pot–or 10-inch-tall plants. The annual/perennial thing will work itself out as long as the tag (or salesperson) states its hardiness features. Between tags that still read “4-inch annual” to regional ads that read “10-inch plants,” we are not exactly progressing quickly.

Color Of The Year Confusion
Because I was having such an enlightening conversation with my wonderful daughter, I decided to ask her about something I saw at the California Spring Trials about which I felt very uninformed. “Laura,” I asked, “do you know what the Color of the Year for 2011 is?” She hesitated and then said, “I didn’t know there was a Color of the Year.”

“Well, Laura, at Spring Trials I was told the Color of the Year is honeysuckle. Would you like your dad to buy you a blouse or something in honeysuckle?” Another pause, then a: “What does honeysuckle even look like?”

I felt much better, because when I was told about this at Spring Trials, I envisioned red, coral, yellow and pink. I couldn’t grasp honeysuckle. So I went to Pantone.com and found out honeysuckle is: “Courageous. Confident. Vital. A brave new color, for a brave new world. Let the bold spirit of honeysuckle infuse you, lift you and carry you through the year. It’s a color for every day–with nothing ‘everyday’ about it.”

Wow, and I thought a 10-inch hibiscus was mystifying.

I am told we should pay attention to these colors, and I must say the Pantone website was fascinating. I bet you didn’t know they also selected men’s colors–no wonder men can’t buy plants, we don’t even know our colors.

Why do we in the plant industry make it so unnecessarily confusing for those who just want to buy our products? Why don’t we simply say “In a 10-inch-wide pot?” Why don’t we describe the Color of the Year as an actual color, not a string of meaningless allegories? Why make more work for ourselves?

All in all, it was an interesting day. And as Laura and I finished up she said, “Hey Dad, about that blouse …”

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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6 comments on “Mystifying Marketing

  1. Anonymous

    Allan,
    Your article cracked me up. To answer the last 4 questions you posed in your article…( first 3)All businesses go through “cycles.” When things are going great, they let the advertising people run the company for a while…When things start to decline, the accountants come in & run things for a while…When everything about the business seems to be in the toilet, then they turn it over to the operations people ( the ones who really do all the work anyway)…
    To answer your final question, I have to quote Ron White. “Ya can’t cure stupid.”
    Excellent article!
    JD
    p.s. did you get your daughter the honeysuckle blouse?

  2. Anonymous

    I completely understand your frustration. We are a wholesaler, and when I say we have 4 1/2″ Gerberas on special this week, I have had customers (who should know better) ask me, “is the plant only 4 1/2″ tall?”

    I think the industry as a whole needs to concentrate on selling and marketing top quality plants and not the containers they’re grown in.

  3. Anonymous

    Alan, I couldn’t agree more. Most of horticultural marketing at retail doesn’t do a thing to help the consumer be more successful with our products. One of my pet peeves is that most annual plants are sold in full bloom, but we insist on using the majority of the limited space on the tag to show a picture of the plant! One of these days I hope we figure this all out like most other industries have.

  4. Anonymous

    Excellent observations and points. As an industry, we use “hort speak” or production terminology and apply it to our communications with consumers. They don’t know what we are saying and we are definitely not making an impact with many consumers with some of our messaging. We need to start acting like consumer goods companies and develop our messages for the consumers.

  5. Anonymous

    So, what about the blouse finally? You keep me hanging here… seriously, at Pacific Plug and Liner, our host was wearing a beautiful Pantone Honeysuckle coloured blouse. What a concept! But in the end, on a flower bench, do we want the customer to hesitate between 2 identical geraniums in 2 different pot size? or even worse, between 3 shades of pink? which one will do best with the patio set cushions?
    While they hesitate, they don’t fill their baskets and don’t buy other gardening products.
    Have a honeysuckle of a day!