Scotts Miracle-Gro rethinks pre-COVID campaign to go beyond the growth story

Alongside agency VaynerMedia, the garden line goes for reconnecting with nature and the togetherness of back-yard life instead of the typical lawn-care imagery.

Agency VaynerMedia had created a traditional spring ad campaign for Scotts Miracle-Gro that hit all of the lawn- and garden-care brand’s sweet spots for March’s planting season. Then COVID-19 hit.

Just as people were retreating inside, fearful of the novel coronavirus, the campaign was put aside and Miracle-Gro marketers and the team at VaynerMedia withdrew to reassess.

Thanks to some social listening, they started to think big.

"There is not a textbook or schooling you are sent through on how you market to consumers during a pandemic," said Josh Peoples, chief brand officer at Scotts Miracle-Gro. "As disappointing as it was to throw away all the things we wanted to do, in some ways it was easy. By listening to what consumers were saying, we became aware of what people were seeking."

Typical thinking at Miracle-Gro focuses on problems in the yard and garden, but this time, the marketers were inspired to think bigger.

"We became more higher-order, to think about the lawn and garden in a way we at Scotts Miracle-Gro had not embraced," said Peoples. "It’s about helping people. COVID presented a whole new way for us to think about our category."

Peoples and John Sass, Scotts Miracle-Gro VP of advertising, noted people on social media posting about venturing into their backyards, having family cookouts and gazing at the stars in the sky. Then came videos of seed purchases and greens sprouting from the soil.

The new ad campaign, which features 30-second and 60-second executions of all user-generated content, shows people reveling in their gardens, playing with their dogs and kids, and proudly watering the produce they’ve grown.

A rendition of the ‘80s Madness hit, "Our House," conjures feelings of nostalgia. The spot winds down with the message, "This year is the perfect reminder that the best summer memories can happen in our own backyard."

"What makes the spot really hit home, pun intended, is it is just the truth," said Sass. "Everyone can relate. It’s the summer of 2020, right there."

The spot was timed to break with the start of another summer institution: Major League Baseball. It is airing on broadcasts on ESPN, as well as on CNN -- because the news is still unavoidable.

Shortly after pulling the original campaign, VaynerMedia created a print ad for Scotts Miracle-Gro that ran in The New York Times. It foreshadowed a return to the "victory gardens" of World War II and urged readers to "reconnect with nature and experience the joy of the turn of the season."

As people harvest their backyard crops, Sass and Peoples intend to advertise beyond the usual spring and early summer season into the fall harvest and beyond.

"Twenty million new households entered into gardening this year," said Peoples. "I keep telling my group, you do realize we are part of a movement here."

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