Turf War Sprouts in Grass-Seed Advertising

Pennington, Scotts Trade Barbs in Radio Spots

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An advertising dust-up is roiling the usually quiet grass-seed business, as Scotts Miracle-Gro has joined a war of words with rival Central Garden and Pet's Pennington. One side characterizes the other's seed mix as half "filler," while the other characterizes a rival's product as made from "ground-up paper."

A new Ad from Scotts for EZ Seed takes on its rivals in a brewing turf war.
A new Ad from Scotts for EZ Seed takes on its rivals in a brewing turf war.

Scotts dominates most of its categories in lawn and garden, but it's more of a challenger in grass seed, where the Pennington brand claims share leadership. Last year, Scotts launched Turf Builder Grass Seed With Water Smart. This spring Pennington began firing back with radio ads saying the Scotts' 20-pound grass seed product is "10 pounds of seed and 10 pounds of filler" and distinguishing its own product as "Honest Green."

"I can understand what they're doing, right up to the point that they questioned our honesty with 'Honest Green,' and that sucks," said recently appointed Scotts Chief Marketing Officer Jim Lyski. "They don't have anything but seed in their bag," Mr. Lyski added, so highlighting that fact makes sense. But he said characterizing what Scotts calls its water-smart coating as "filler" goes too far, adding that Pennington is trying to compensate for not having the technology.

Scotts is firing back with two new 60-second radio ads from ML Rogers, New York, that accuse its competitor of spreading rumors. Turf Builder grass seed doesn't have filler, says one of the 60-second ads. It has an "exclusive coating that keeps the seed moist twice as long as uncoated seed, so it's more likely to grow in rather than drying out."

Another Scotts ad takes issue with a Pennington ad attacking new Scotts EZ Seed, which says the Scotts product needs more water than a similar one-step Pennington product. "Not true," says the Scotts ad. "EZ Seed absorbs more water and holds it longer. Four times longer than theirs does."

EZ Seed, says Scotts' ad, "is made from a natural mulch that holds eight times its weight in water. Their mix -- it's made from ground-up paper. That's right. Paper, which can't come close to surrounding the seed with water the way EZ Seed can."

Both Scotts ads highlight Scotts "No Quibble" money-back guarantee.

Jeff Crow, VP-marketing for grass seed at Central Garden and Pet, referred an email for comment to Chief Marketing Officer Jim Doyle, who didn't return calls and emails for comment.

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