Years ago, when wholesale nurseries made catalogs and websites (if they even had one), they thought they were talking to people like them – people who know a lot about plants. Today, anyone can access an online catalog or website to get information about plants. That’s a problem because only 20 percent of Americans know a lot about plants. Which means 80 percent know little or nothing. Anyone born after 1963 was most likely not taught to garden by their parents because both of their parents worked. This was the first generation with two working parents, and people had no time for anything extra – including gardening. We need to sell plants to these folks. How can we entice them to buy something with copy they don‘t understand?
The following is an example of website copy written for quite possibly the most famous horticultural introduction in the world. Is this enticing consumers? My comments are in parentheses.
Rose ‘Radrazz’ Knock Out® PP#11836 CBPR#0993
The original member of The Knock Out® Family. This shrub rose set a new standard in disease resistance with little to no maintenance required. (What’s disease resistance?) The bloom cycle (What the?) produces rich cherry red/hot pink blooms that will continue until the first hard frost (A first hard frost is?). Black spot resistant, drought tolerant and self-cleaning (Wait, it cleans? Cleans what?), this rose suits every garden and every lifestyle. (Finally, something we can understand, but still jargon, right?)
Here’s my criticism, and trust me, we are all guilty of this. It has way too much lingo. We need to talk directly to consumers, not to ourselves. Say what you mean. Brag about the plant if it warrants bragging. Describe everything to the lowest common denominator, because we need to be talking to everyone, not the 20 percent who understand. Disclaimer: I worked for Star Roses and Plants when Knock Out was introduced, and the copy I wrote back then and the copy they use now is great, but still full of jargon. I pointed this out to Steve Hutton, president of Star Roses and Plants when I asked his permission to use Knock Out as the example. He told me to tell you he cringed and then promptly fainted.
Why aren’t we telling people how completely amazing the plants are or how to take care of them? Why not make this rose sound like the easiest plant to grow in the whole world, because it could be.
Let’s try this instead.
If you have never gardened before, this is the plant for you.
Plant it - water it really well every two days for the first month, then once a week for the rest of the first summer. After that - watch it grow! This is one of the easiest plants to grow and it will give you months of beautiful pinkish-red flowers. In the fall, the leaves turn deep purple and then fall off after a few frosts. Next spring when the forsythia are blooming (if you don’t know what a forsythia is, Google it and you will know), take some sharp pruners and cut the plant’s branches back to 12-18” tall. Follow this diagram to make sure you remove any stems that are crossing. [Insert a rose pruning diagram on the tag.] That’s all you have to do and this plant will come back year after year and flower from early summer until fall. It’s THAT easy!
Okay, so maybe I went a little too far, but I’m trying to prove a point. But is it really too far or is this what people need to be successful? We send newly adopted pets home with a littany of instructions, but we send most plants home with with a 1x3-inch plastic tag that says next to nothing.
If we write copy for the 100 percent instead of the 20 percent, we can continue to sell more plants to people who know a lot, as well as the people who know little to nothing. We can get people excited about gardening and teach them how to be successful so they buy more plants.
Selling more plants – isn’t that the point?