A Brave New Campaign
Developed by the Arizona Nursery Association and adopted by partners across the country, the Plant Something! marketing program has built momentum by starting from the ground up.
It's a simple statement, but it packs a powerful message: Plant Something!
In just two words, the tagline for a relatively new, but rapidly growing, green industry marketing campaign says it all. Plant anything, really - tree, shrub, perennial, annual - and you can help to improve the environment, your personal economy and even your well-being. It's the sort of short-but-sweet motivating phrase that piques consumers' curiosity and starts them thinking ... then talking ... then acting. And it appears to be just the sort of promotional campaign the green industry is ready for.
If you attended any of a number of trade shows and conferences this year, you've probably seen Plant Something material, whether you picked up a brochure and a bumper sticker or visited the booth. Although the program began a few years ago in Arizona, it's reaching out across the country to recruit more partners in this grassroots endeavor.
Posters and ads emphasize the economic, environmental and lifestyle benefits of planting . well . something. The graphic presentation was designed to allow partners to customize ads by inserting nursery or garden center names and contact information at the top.
Images courtesy of Plant Something; Arizona Nursery Association unless otherwise noted.
What is it?
On the surface, the Plant Something campaign may look like a simple public awareness campaign. It's somewhat similar to "Got Milk?" in that its generic tagline doesn't promote any single producer or individual product. Aimed at consumers, the ostensible goal is to catch their attention and encourage them to, well, plant something.
At its core, however, the program is intended to increase sales for its member growers and garden centers and, by extension, help to grow the greater green industry. In fact, because it is supported by funding through the USDA Farm Bill Specialty Crop Block Grant program, its function must be to work toward increasing the consumption of a specialty crop - in this case, ornamental plants.
Hasn't this been tried before? Let's back up a bit. Remember "Plants for America," the proposed promotion order that was sowed in the early 1990s but never took root? It had a similar goal - to place ornamental plants front and center in the mind of the consumer, thus driving up sales to benefit growers. The funding, though, was the sticking point. As Plants for America was structured, support dollars would come from the industry in the form of nominal levies on containers and plant sales. The program ultimately failed, primarily due to the proposed funding scheme. It was viewed by many as a form of taxation, leading growers across the country to sign a petition of nonsupport that was published in this magazine.
But Plant Something takes a different approach, and although the funding does come from a government grant, the program itself was built from the ground up.
A real grassroots movement
About four or five years ago, Arizona Nursery Association board members approached executive director Cheryl Goar with a challenge. "When the economy was absolutely at its worst," Goar recalls, "our board came to me and said, 'We need some help here; we need something in the form of marketing.' Because Arizona was so construction-based and the economy had basically tanked in 2007, 2008, things were really tough."
Something had to be done to encourage sales, Goar explains, "So we came up with this idea for [a promotional campaign] and to apply for a specialty crop grant" to fund it. Such grants are a part of the greater Farm Bill, which distributes funds to the department of agriculture in each state, proportionate to the percentage of specialty crops grown there. Every state is different, and funds are distributed differently in each state. In Arizona, Goar says, "They actually believe in getting all the money out to the specialty crop growers in the state. No one producer alone can apply; it can only benefit groups of producers. So the vegetable association can apply [for grant money], and the nursery association can apply - anyone who's doing something that benefits a broad group."
She emphasizes that a project funded by this type of grant "has to increase the consumption of that specialty crop. That's kind of the bar. And our state takes education, marketing and research proposals," but the ANA concentrated on a marketing proposal.
"The nursery industry has turned down marketing campaigns over the years," Goar admits. "Without a common product, no one's been able to dissect that puzzle and figure out how that would work for our industry. But what we're trying to do is work from the grassroots up. If everyone is promoting the same message, maybe we get that momentum for the nursery industry, but we've come at it from the ground up rather than the top down."
The Arizona Nursery Association provided member nurseries and garden centers with rolls of 200 printed plant stakes; the companies are free to order more at their own expense. Left, bumper stickers, window clings and banners are all part of the promotional materials offered by Plant Something campaign partners. Opposite page, a distinct, green and yellow plant stake serves as the official symbol of the Plant Something promotional campaign. The stake is trademark protected.
The ANA turned to Park&Co, a full-service advertising agency in Phoenix, for help. The firm had created the award-winning "Water - Use It Wisely" campaign (http://www.wateruseitwisely.com) that began in Phoenix and quickly spread nationwide. "We realized that we're a bunch of nursery owners; we're not an ad agency," Goar explains. "They knew the right questions to ask. They kept nursery people in a room all day long - that was a feat in itself. What it really taught me is that our industry had all these answers, but we didn't know the right questions to ask to get the right information."
The ad pros returned to the group with only two promo ideas, but, as Goar says, one was "head and shoulders above" anything the board had imagined. The graphic featured a vacant lot between two high-rise buildings in Phoenix, with an enormous plant stake stuck in the barren ground. The stake said, very simply, "Plant Something!" The message was clear: No matter where you start, you can make a difference if you take that one simple step.
It's not just about "pretty"
With the guidance of Park&Co, the Arizona growers came to understand not only how consumers see the green industry, but how we need to connect with them in order to sell. Goar explains, "The other advice that I think is really critical to our industry right now is the agency told us we just don't have the luxury - and remember, this was in a down economy when we started, but it's still applicable today - we don't have the luxury to talk about our product as something 'pretty.' We just don't have that anymore. You have to promote the environmental, the financial and the health benefits."
The brand statement
The Plant Something brand statement delivers the spirit of the campaign without relying on heavy-handed "sales-speak." It takes into consideration the admonition that the industry no longer can afford to sell beauty alone: The economic, environmental and health benefits of gardening will drive participation - and sales - through to the hands of a new generation. Here's how the Plant Something brand presents its mission:
"Embracing the 'New Normal' realities in people's lives, the 'Plant Something' movement is a fun, semi-radical groundswell that motivates all to enrich their private and public environments by encouraging simple, rewarding acts that can grow to a canopy of value and beauty for a richer world."
Yes, the plants are beautiful and they brighten up a yard, but consumers want to know what else they stand to gain. "Everything in this campaign talks about increasing your property value, getting out and exercising in the garden, and basically cleaning the air," Goar says. "We don't talk about 'it looks good.' We know we're competing with HGTV every day on 'let's paint the bedroom and get a new bedspread rather than redo the landscape'. And we're talking about that long-term value."
The team developed a number of products that help to educate the public - in a short-attention-span manner - on the benefits of planting. Bumper stickers and window clings urge consumers, "Don't Just Stand There, Plant Something!" Posters and magazine ads briefly describe economic, environmental and health benefits. Take, for example, the "Cash Money" ad featuring a seed packet that touts, "Large Bloom, Fast Growing C-Notes." The copy at the bottom states, "Who says money doesn't grow on trees? Have you seen what a beautiful yard can do for your property value? By adding a quality landscape to your home, you can boost its resale value by up to 15%. Learn how green investments pay high returns at plant- http://something.org."
Where Arizona stresses environmental and financial gains, the Idaho Nursery & Landscape Association has chosen to emphasize healthy living. "They have billboards all over Idaho that say, 'Gardening Eases Stress' and 'Gardening Grows Good Health'," Goar says. "They're absolutely beautiful, and they tied it in with a buy local/plant local program as well. [The INLA] actually wrote an entire grant on the health benefits and were successful in getting it" on that basis.
All of the products, including 30-second radio spots, can be customized by partner associations - those groups that have bought into the program through a specialty crop block grant of their own. The Plant Something plant stake - the green and yellow graphic presentation that represents the campaign - is protected under Federal trademark, but otherwise, plant tags, ads, radio spots, bumper stickers, buttons and so on - all can be tailored to fit. In fact, partners share the products they've developed through a Dropbox application administered by the ANA. They are free to adopt and adapt, as long as the trademark is honored.
The Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association adapted Plant Something materials to create an ad for Midwest Home magazine. A similar ad was used to support the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's "Minnesota Grown" program.
Image courtesy of Plant Something; Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association
The program has a website (http://www.plant-something.org) that features a 30-second animated video called "Imagine That." Animation is used to help keep the message generic; no particular location or plant can be identified. The voice- over relates how planting can "raise your property value and lower your blood pressure." This landing page is where partner states link to their individual sites.
Does it work?
The bottom line sometimes can be a moving target, and given the twists and turns of a recovering economy, it's difficult to pinpoint the specific effects of a young promotional campaign. And a formal survey hasn't yet been conducted in Arizona. But Goar points out that growers there reported a 10 percent increase in plant sales between 2010 and 2011. "I would love to say that the increase was the result of my campaign in Arizona, but the economy did continue to improve in those years," Goar says. "Was it all due to Plant Something? No. But are we starting to be recognized? Are we starting to get people to think and talk about planting? Absolutely."
It may have started in Arizona, but the association's board is eager to see this campaign grow well beyond the borders of the Grand Canyon State. "Our board is forwarding-thinking," Goar says, "and they've been very altruistic in this venture. It became obvious that we had something, and why would we not share it for the betterment of the industry?"
So what does the future hold for Plant Something? Plans for the next few years include adding new promotional materials, such as truck wraps and a Plant Something app for smartphone use, as well as a revision of the website as more partners come on board. But growth beyond the products has been the plan all along. Eventually, Plant Something very well might become a separate entity, no longer administered by the Arizona Nursery Association. "It could be its own company," Goar explains, "because it's on the brink now. Our goal is for this to outgrow us. The ultimate goal is, at some point, that Plant Something is too large for us to manage, and that's a good thing. That's a very good thing."
Sally Benson is the editorial director for American Nursery man. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plant Something partners
The Plant Something campaign started with the plea of a few growers in Arizona - we need help with marketing - but it has since grown to include 13 partners, and counting. For now, partnership is limited to organizations in order to comply with the grant, so if you're interested in participating, check with your state nursery association.
Here's who's on board today:
Other state associations currently are reviewing grant proposals and are exploring the benefits of partnership; as of late August 2013, the Plant Something group expected the combined Canadian provincial associations to consider making the program a national priority.