Scotts and Barton Shift From Lawn Care to Caring About Lawns

Millennials Largely Don't, So Brand Aims to Show Why They Should

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Through much of its nearly 150-year history, Scotts just assumed people cared about lawns and wanted bags of products to make them lush and green. Now, confronted by a generation of millennials not fully sold on the dream, the brand is retooling with an emotional campaign from new agency Barton F. Graf about why lawns are important in the first place.

The "It's Good Out Here" campaign breaking this week on TV, online, in cinemas and out-of includes a deer kicking off her cloven hooves to frolic on a lawn in her bare, um, toes. The "Anthem" spot shows people and dogs enjoying the feel and smell of a lawn, playing, grilling and rolling (dogs and men alike) in the grass. The ads aim to burnish the lawn's place as an American institution where people grill, play wiffle ball, fall in love, get married and raise children.

"It starts with trying to grow the category and attract a young homeowner or consumer who either is unengaged or semi-engaged with lawn care," said Josh Peoples, VP-general manager of the Scotts Miracle-Gro lawn business.

The ads also hit home for the brand's established enthusiasts, Mr. Peoples said. But he said the catch phrase as the project got started was: "We've got to get people to care about the lawn before we get them to care for it."

Scotts will continue partnerships with Major League Baseball, or Lowe's around the NCAA Tournament. But it also will do more digital advertising and try cinema ads for the first time to reach more millennials, not to mention outdoor -- including Times Square.

Credit: Scotts Miracle-Gro

The idea behind that placement is twofold, said Barton founder and Chief Creative Officer Gerry Graf -- that most people seeing ads in Times Square are tourists, "and just the juxtaposition that there is no lawn," so people can see what they're missing.

"It just takes a nudge to get them to that happy place a lawn gives you," Mr. Graf said. Indeed, after his first four-hour meeting inside Scotts' Marysville, Ohio, headquarters, when he stepped outside and saw the vast Kentucky bluegrass lawn, Mr. Graf said, "I took my shoes and socks off and just walked through the lawn."

It doesn't take long for Scotts marketers to talk to consumers about lawns before getting to "this really profound almost nostalgic memory," Mr. Peoples said. And the advertising is about bringing up the sensory signals to represent the smells, feel, sound or sight of lawns.

Ultimately Scotts doesn't need to nudge that hard, even with millennials, he said. "They still by and large have the same dreams that boomers had. More than two thirds want to own their own home, live out in the burbs and have a family."

But the Great Recession interrupted that process, making millennials wait longer to have families and establish their own homes. After digging out of that initial hit, Scotts spent recent years with flat sales "trying to stabilize the category," he said. Last year, sales were up 6% to $3 billion, and in the fiscal first quarter ended in December, sales rose almost 14%, albeit in a traditionally light quarter fueled by unusually hot weather.

Now Scotts is hoping a little nostalgia will help keep the momentum going. And as the dominant player across lawn care, Mr. Peoples said, "We're trying to do the heavy lifting not just for the brand but the entire category."

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name for Josh Peoples, VP-general manager for lawn care of Scotts Miracle-Gro. Ad Age regets the error.

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