Quoted through clenched teeth

A strange press release landed in my inbox today: a joint release from Scotts MiracleGro and TerraCycle—a short one—just a paragraph loaded with legalities and quotes that sounded as if they had been delivered through clenched teeth. The release addressed a settlement of the lawsuit Scotts filed against TerraCycle earlier this year, claiming trademark infringement and other goodies.

“We recognize that Scotts filed this lawsuit based on a legitimate need to uphold the accuracy of advertising claims and protect its trademark rights,” said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle’s founder and CEO. “We also regret certain statements that were made about Scotts in the heat of litigation. Now that the parties have resolved their differences, TerraCycle is looking forward to providing consumers with an array of garden and lawn care products in the marketplace.”

Of course, I believe Tom Szaky said this about as much as I believe I could grow a blue rose. These quotes were never delivered at all. They were manufactured in the Scott’s MiracleGro Corporate Communications department, and certainly run by dozens of lawyers, and probably run by the Vice President of Hoo Ha and the Vice President of Wickety-Wack.

Of course, TerraCycle’s PR people certainly had input on Szaky’s quote, probably writing it up under legal duress in the first place and then emailing it over, and then there were probably conference calls, and people rolling their eyes across conference room tables, and a late night last night while everyone hashed this out some more, and maybe early calls to reporters or whatever. I’ve been around those conference room tables. I know all too well how this works.

The sad thing? We’re never going to get the whole story unless someone gets on the journalistic stick, and maybe we won’t even know the truth then. Was TerraCycle really in the wrong? Or did Scotts MiracleGro throw enough money at the problem to make it go away? After all, in the same press release, Jim King, Scotts spokesperson, talked about “protection of the valuable Miracle-Gro brand.”

Valuable as a business, sure. But I think it’s equally valuable to be a steward of the land we choose to garden or not garden. I think it’s equally valuable not to dump a bunch of poison into potting soil and sell it to people who don’t know any better.

I say this even though I have caught people I love with lots of bags of MiracleGro potting soil on their decks. Ahem. You know who you are. And you know I would prefer you’re not eating poisoned vegetables.

As part of the agreement announced today, TerraCycle has to do the following:

  1. TerraCycle has agreed that it no longer will make advertising claims of product superiority to Miracle-Gro products to ensure accuracy in its advertising. More specifically, TerraCycle has agreed that it will not claim that its products are better than, or more effective than, or as good as Miracle-Gro products. In addition, TerraCycle may not claim that any independent tests or university studies were conducted to support any such claims.
  2. TerraCycle has also agreed to change its packaging so it will not use a green and yellow color combination, for which Miracle-Gro owns a trademark registration. This change will be made to avoid any possible confusion with Miracle-Gro’s trade dress.
  3. The court order and the settlement agreement will be posted on TerraCycle’s www.suedbyscotts.com Web page. TerraCycle also agreed to phase out this site after three months.

I’ve been invited to address additional questions to a particular spokesperson at Scotts. I’m considering making that call. Are there any questions you would like answered? I’m happy to ask…and write…on behalf of my commenters.

8 Responses to “Quoted through clenched teeth”

  1. 1 libby September 22, 2007 at 7:56 am

    This is interesting. Clearly there was also some other good and valuable consideration changing hands here.

    I too have been in these meetings, and sitting around a similar conference table. I’m usually on the phone wondering how my law school education and desire to work in the public sector led me to this – drafting and editing bland communications and becoming very passionate about which article should be used in said communications.

    I’d like to see all of the Settlement papers, and there are likely reams of legal-ese associated with this email. I’m frankly surprised at how quickly this was turned around. I’ve been involved in enough of these type of situations to know that the strong arm of the massive conglomerate won the day through brute force.

  2. 2 inadvertentgardener September 22, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Libby, I’m very interested in seeing the settlement papers, as well. Since they’ll be posted, you and I will have our opportunity, for sure. The whole thing irritates me — it was super-fast, and not that I don’t know that Scotts was certainly harvesting my email address from reading my original post, but it annoyed me that I got the press release from them instead of from Terracyle. The whole thing has the flavor of dirt after a heel has been ground into it.

  3. 3 flossie September 22, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    What?? This is terrible. I always had my suspicions about Miracle-Gro, and this confirms them.

    I like that the suedbyscotts.com site has a link to where you can buy Terracycle. I hadn’t heard of it before, but now I’m going to buy some.

  4. 4 inadvertentgardener September 23, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Flossie, I highly encourage you to do so — it’s good stuff, and worthy of purchase. I’m so sad that suedbyscotts.com is going to have to go away, even though the lawsuit is over. This is an instance in which I’m extremely glad for the Internet Way-Back Archive. Nothing on the Internet ever really goes away…

  5. 5 bright September 24, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    that totally sucks. i’m particularly interested in these unintended consequences of copyright. of course trademarks need to be distinctive… and then someone goes and trademarks yellow and green. tiffany’s (the jeweler) has trademarked that blue they use for their boxes. it’s profoundly ridiculous.

    i’m glad you’re writing about it. the internet is like a perpetual conversation… i’m actually impressed you got a response because that implies to me at least, that scotts cares what bloggers write about them. i don’t know that i have a question i want answered, but i’d be really curious about whether or not they realize how bad this makes them look. how about, “are you ashamed you freaked out over a company none of us had heard of until you tried to squash them?” your post title perfectly describes how childish this is.

  6. 6 inadvertentgardener September 25, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Bright, I’m sure Scotts cares — they’re smart — they know that there’s more to influence than just advertising and earned media. And I agree — it’s great that there is the opportunity to have a larger conversation about issues like these in a public forum.

  1. 1 No, no. Green is MY color. « The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on September 22, 2007 at 3:18 pm
  2. 2 Independent Street : When It's Good to Be Sued Trackback on September 27, 2007 at 11:55 am

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