Scotts buys abandoned spots

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Taking advantage of cut-price airtime abandoned by advertisers at the start of the Iraq war, Scotts Co. has upped its media buy at the height of its heaviest advertising and selling season.

The marketer of Scotts, Miracle Gro, Round Up and Ortho lawn and garden products already had budgeted a 20% increase in ad spending to around $80 million this year. Due to the war, that money is buying more airtime. During company-hosted store tours for analysts in Atlanta last week, Scotts' management said it seized a target of opportunity recently to buy airtime other advertisers didn't want, particularly on news coverage.

Scotts has bought heavily even on cable news networks, which have had trouble selling ads despite some of their best ratings ever. Since they began selling ads during week two of the war, much of the news networks' inventory has gone as remnants to direct-response advertisers.

"We do 80% of our advertising during the mid-March to late May period, so we didn't feel we had much choice," said Lee Reichert, Scotts VP-marketing, who added that the company received no complaints about its ads in war coverage. "It was an opportunity to get a message of normalcy to people."

In a research note last week, Bank of America securities analyst Bill Steele lauded Scotts' move. "The big increase in advertising this year could drive upside [earnings surprises]," he said, and added that the garden-products category appears to be more responsive to advertising than some others, making the opportunistic buys even more potentially valuable.

Wolf Group, New York, handles creative for Scotts, and R.J. Palmer, New York, buys media.

bayer visible as well

Scotts, which holds a commanding lead in the U.S. lawn-care business, can't afford to be off air. Rival Bayer Advanced lawn-chemical brand is running an aggressive campaign on cable news networks and elsewhere as it extends the brand from pesticides to fertilizer.

Spokespeople and executives for Bayer Advanced and its agency, Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, Atlanta, didn't return calls for comment. But Bayer also has been one of the more visible national advertisers on news programming of late.

Bayer is also 8% owner of United Industries' Spectrum Group, which launches its first TV advertising for its flagship Spectracide brand in several years. The campaign from Rodgers Townsend, St. Louis, dubbed "Extreme," includes a 30-second ad that shows a paunchy suburbanite torching his yard with a flamethrower, then offers Spectracide as a more sensible alternative for grub control.

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