Sometime around 1947, residents of Levittown, the famous suburban subdivision 55 miles outside New York, opened their community newsletter and read this: “No feature of a suburban residential community contributes as much to the charm and beauty of the individual home and locality as well-kept lawns.”
The author of this officious little statement was developer Abe Levitt himself, and his words would prove prophetic. Today, Americans spend $40 billion a year on caring for their lawns.
That’s a lot of cash to drop on what’s essentially a pain-in-the-ass chore, isn’t it? Well, that depends. If a homeowner has to slog it out with a heavy push mower under the hot sun, then yes, mowing the lawn is torture. But that experience becomes a very different thing for the lucky fella who owns a fancy new lawn tractor.
And let’s not kid ourselves, people: It’s the fellas who get off on this stuff.
Just ask Toro, which has been making more or less the same pitch to suburban males for over 60 years now. As these ads demonstrate, the marketing of lawn-mowing tractors is only ostensibly about the mowing of actual lawns. “It’s more about playing into the insecurities of manhood,” observed veteran brand marketer Josh Cohen, CEO of Pearl Media. “It’s the need to show off that you have the best mower on the street.”
As this 1953 ad demonstrates, Toro has long understood that the American male’s appetite for a chore is directly proportional to it giving him an excuse to buy a new tool—especially if it’s “what the pros use.” Chances are, the average suburban yard-keeper of 1953 didn’t need a big red Toro Whirlwind tractor (“choice of championship golf courses”) any more than his contemporary counterpart requires a Z Master 3000 with Turbo Force cutting technology powered by a 24-horsepower engine.
But need is merely the thing that gets consumers into the showroom; it’s the want (in this case, of some sweet-looking, heavy-duty equipment) that makes the sale. “It’s about putting you in the power position, sitting on this big machine where all your neighbors can see you,” Cohen added. “Yes, you’re getting your chores done—but it’s an excuse to go outside, have some fun and flex your muscles. It’s playing into the psyche of manhood.”
Lest this disquisition into men and tractors seems sexist, it’s worth pointing out that this type of marketing works on many consumers and in many categories. “It taps into ambitiousness, even materialism,” Cohen said, posing the question: “Does anyone really need a sub-zero refrigerator? A professional-grade oven?”
Probably not. But it feels cool to have one, just like it feels manly to get outside and cut that grass down.
Toro made a name for itself in the golf-course business as early as 1920 when it produced the Minikahda Fairway Mower. In fact, the company didn’t start making domestic mowers until 1938. This ad—which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1953—united the two with a new breed of marketing: using heavy- duty professional equipment to appeal to the everyday Joe.
1. Not unlike golfer Sam Snead on the tractor in the 1953 ad, this guy looks smug enough to be a professional and average enough to be... just like you, dude. “Both ads are playing to manhood,” Cohen said, “a guy sitting on this monstrous machine.”
2. This cutting deck contains heat-treated steel blades that spin at 18,300 feet per minute. Impressed? That’s the idea. As Cohen pointed out, this mower is really just like any luxury product. Its decadence is what draws you in.
3. While the copy talks about impressive stuff like Turbo Force “flawless” grass cutting, the push is emotional. “You understand that they build these machines for industrial use,” Cohen said, “and you want to use it on your own lawn.”