Donkeys & Elephants

Donkeys & Elephants

What? Can’t hear you. Let me turn the radio down. Oh, you want me to write a column? Can’t – too busy listening to the radio, watching CNN, reading three or four newspapers a day. Can’t stop now to write.

Okay, I will turn down the radio.


Well, I would love to stop and visit with you, but you know that the most important marketing event of our generation is going on and I really can’t miss a minute of it. What marketing event? You jest! Surely you have heard about the race to be the next U.S. president? Which is typically pretty interesting if you are a student of marketing, but this year – the saints be praised – what a year!

What, can you speak up? Sorry – my ears are numb from 24/7 radio and TV coverage. Did you know that on satellite radio, there is one station that is 24 hours a day just on the election? Channel 130 on XM. Satellite radio is truly a gift from the gods. Think
C-SPAN on steroids. I’m not a big Wolf Blitzer fan, but I love those CNN political talking heads.

You don’t think the election has anything to do with marketing petunias in Peoria? Ha, I say – HA. Let’s start down that rabbit hole. 

Importance Of The Election

The election is important on two levels. First, and most obvious, are the immediate issues that our esteemed leaders in Washington must deal with – and this time around, many are very important to us lowly greenhouse types. Ignoring if you are a blue or a red person, topics like immigration, energy and taxes are very top of mind. This written space is not intended to share any views to influence you – the joy of this country is that you can make your own decisions and vote accordingly (as compared to the recent Russian election where Putin put his "guy" in an uncontested election). But I cannot remember an election in the past 30 years where we had more big issues at stake.

On this topic of big issues, I find I have started to yell at the TV whenever some politician or, worse, a TV media flunky, makes an outrageous or unsupported statement. The yelling begins. Poor wifey has had to remove all throwable items from around my chair, lest I start hurling things at the TV. This election cycle I am yelling a lot.

Now I notice that I am starting the same behavior at the grocery store and gas station. No, dear reader, it is not evil oil companies forcing up gas prices, but years of failed energy policies (both blue and red) that are coming home to roost. Then, I go to the grocery store and buy $5 gallons of milk and start yelling again. And this time, I can get going on both immigration and energy policies forcing up the price of a head of lettuce and a gallon of milk. (Do not get me started on the Farm Bill). I also blame Al Gore, but I pretty much blame everything on Mr. The World Is Ending Let’s Buy My Book And Make Me A CEO Of An Alternate Energy Company guy, so that is probably not fair.

Because you are all in agribusiness, I know you all know this stuff, but our boneheads in Washington and their inability to see past the next day’s headlines have done a marvelous job. The fact that Congress is getting lower approval ratings than the president is no accident.

That is first reason that I am obsessed with election coverage. I keep waiting for someone to get real about topics that impact our industry and my grocery bill.

Second reason, I cannot turn it off – it is marketing heaven. It is how to position a product. They each have slogans and taglines and logos and machines. They are now one-name stars – we have Madonna, Brad and Britney as one-namers, we have Hillary and Barack. "Mac is back" is now a chant, the word "change" can be put into any word combination and made a slogan. Listen to the stump speeches and you will hear brilliant product positioning. It is marketing heaven. I must listen to just one more speech, see one more Q&A session or hear the talking heads spin.

I’m not picking on Hillary, but she has changed her slogan about five times. Makes sense – she was the leading petunia in Peoria and then she fell behind. But as any petunia sales person knows, if you change your message too often, you run the risk of confusing the customer. I’m not picking on Barack, but he is master of saying very little about real facts, but saying them so well you get cranked. On the petunia side of the ledger, how do we make our products as inspiring? We sell beauty, he is selling hope – can we do it as well as he is doing today?

In this election cycle with its crazy 24/7 coverage, every small nuance of every speech and every gesture is watched. We don’t think that hard about marketing plants. But what if we did? What if we were as careful about message and position when we go to retail with our flowers? What if we put thought and some energy into how our customers emote and react to our products, not "just" have good quality at fair prices.

If we did that to a petunia, potentilla or pennisetum, we would communicate the following to consumers:

  • A two- or three-word slogan as to why this is good.
  • Stories that are easy to remember and that get me excited and emotional.
  • PR team getting every amount of free press available in local media.
  • Repeat – over and over.

I have heard the stump speeches. I can do a pretty good Barack impression. "On the steps of the old state capital …" The Hillary clap and wave and the McCain "My friends …"

How do we do that with petunias?

Anyway, I gotta go, a McCain stump speech is on the radio and then I must listen to talking heads talk about the Hillary/Barack thing. I will be back sometime in November…