Dow's marketing message misses its mark

If recent reports are any indication of how green marketing initiatives may be having a hard time finding their mark, it seems Dow Chemical Co. (NYSE: DOW) has some lessons to learn in convincing consumers it is on a sustainable path.

The Midland, Mich.-based company was recently in the line of fire as its new herbicide and genetically modified corn project, Enlist, moves closer toward regulatory appeal.

If approved, the company will roll out the new corn seeds, alongside its 2,4-D herbicide next year. The new corn will be immune to the chemical compound, which contains 2,4-D and glyphosate. The combination will be able to kill the surrounding weeds that have become resistant to the glyphosate alone, without harming the corn itself.

But convincing consumers that their new agriculture product is the greener option has been an especially challenging task for Dow.

In recent months, Dow has been spending a lot of energy denying allegations on several fronts – that 2,4-D is a threat to human health and conventional farmers (just to name a few), which has further confounded its marketing message.

Dow insists its new version of 2,4-D with glyphosate will not only kill the petulant “superweeds”, but will also prevent new weeds from building resistance, reduce soil erosion and help protect water quality by reducing agricultural runoff.

In addition, the company says it has met with thousands of agricultural stakeholders and regulatory authorities and developed a stewardship program to educate the public about its new corn and herbicide.

Still, despite all of its efforts, more than 365,000 public comments were reportedly filed with the USDA opposing approval of the genetically engineered corn. So, is the company’s message really getting through?

Looking back

Dow’s past history is a major challenge for the company as it attempts to introduce its new products. Perhaps the most sensational is its link to Agent Orange, which environmental advocates are terming the new Dow corn, arguing that it’s a carcinogen.

The company has repeatedly said that while Agent Orange contained 2,4-D, it was another herbicide, 2,4,5-T that was the cause of birth defects, cancer and other health problems, and was phased off the market in the 1980s.

From a marketing standpoint, this may create some confusion as consumers try and make sense of the conflicting information that they are presented.

Dow claims that the corn of yesteryear cannot continue to grow under current conditions. Today, most corn farmers are already dousing their corn with herbicides in order to tackle the increasingly invasive problem of superweeds. Fifteen years ago, the chemical glyphosate was practically the only herbicide farmers used to kill weeds, which in turn, through repeated use over time created weed resistance to the herbicide.

Some critics say Enlist only starts the cycle over again. While in theory, less 2,4-D would be required to be effective, it’s not clear what will actually happen in practice.

Photo of industrial irrigation equipment courtesy of  Elena Elisseeva via Shutterstock

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