Sunday, January 29, 2012

Elsewhere on the Web: Did We Win Already?

Greenhouse Grower has a couple articles up about the blue-dyed Phalaenopsis phenomenon, both of which contain some interesting quotes.

In the first, from January 6, Marcella Lucio, the marketing director of Silver Vase (who produce the 'Blue Mystique' non-variety), announces that Silver Vase will now inform consumers that their orchids will re-bloom white instead of blue, both in materials sold with the plants and on their website.

The actual Silver Vase website says something substantially different:

A new stem will probably bring white flowers, though it is too early to know for sure. It is assumed so, because Phalaenopsis orchids have a very strong natural ‘filtering system’ that protects them in the wild.
Silver Vase isn't assuming anything: they're well aware that new stems are going to be white, because they know they're starting from genetically white plants and injecting them with dye, and they know the dye doesn't last forever. So I'm unhappy about the phrasing there.

On the other hand, I enjoyed "[Lucio] says she expected the criticism from the very beginning," as it implies that they knew all along that they were giving customers impossible expectations, and just figured they'd wait until people started complaining to do what they should have done all along. Now that the expected criticism has arrived, and they've admitted that the color's not permanent, they get to look like they're being all responsive to the public. And if, in doing so, they just happen to get another round of publicity? Icing on the cake.

The second link, from January 19, is basically the same story, from a different producer. Plainview Orchids sells dyed phals called "Blue Diamond," "Purple Fusion," and "Lavender Mist," which appear to be produced in exactly the same way (though Purple Fusion begins with a phal which is already purple). According to this article, both Plainview and Silver Vase produce their orchids by permission of some other, unnamed, company, which actually holds the rights to the technique.

Plainview likewise has had a convenient change of heart and will now, they say, be including the rebloom color on their tags. The article includes a snarky, dismissive quote from Plainview president Arie Van Vugt:
At least [the information that it will rebloom a different color is] there as a disclaimer now. But believe me, maybe 1 percent of consumers will get it back flowering anyway.
I can't decide if the cynicism of that makes me like him more than I like Marcella Lucio, or less.

Unlike Silver Vase, Plainview doesn't have anything on their website about reblooming, or even anything about the orchids at all. I also couldn't find anything referring to a "Purple Fusion" Phalaenopsis anywhere on the internet, beyond the Greenhouse Grower article and a handful of photos. So for the moment, I guess we have to take Plainview's word for it.

But hey. We have promises of tags. Is this enough? Did we win?

I'm thinking no, we didn't win, but yes, it might be enough. When I first found out about all this, I was upset that these companies were pretty much just lying, as far as your average consumer is concerned, and presenting a plant for sale that would no longer exist once the plant broke down the last of the dye.1

They are now lying a bit less. It's still a misrepresentation, I'd argue (particularly Silver Vase's maybe-they'll-come-back-blue-anything-could-happen line, which I'd argue is a good example of truthiness in advertising2), but adding fine print does sort of absolve them, even if they know most of their customers aren't going to read it. I certainly don't expect them to grab every potential customer by the shoulders and tell them, in short, declarative sentences, that the plant will rebloom white, not blue. The more serious growers, the ones who would be interested in reblooming the plant, are probably interested enough to read the tag before buying; the ones who just want something to match their sofa  birthday cake frosting  neon Budweiser sign  Patrick Nagel print3 don't care about the long-term future of the plant and intend to throw it out in three months anyway, so this is information they don't need to have.

Patrick Nagel. Blue Sweater. Image via Beyond Anomie. Included because it seems like it might match the "Blue Mystique" orchids at the beginning of the post. (Not quite, as it turns out. But close.)

So this is probably good enough, assuming that Silver Vase and Plainview are actually going to admit that they know what color the plants are going to bloom next time. We'll see. In the meantime, we can still point out the lurid colors and the way this whole dyed-phal thing is so 2010 whenever the subject comes up, and hope that the practice doesn't spread to too many other species of plant before people catch on and stop buying them. We'll see how long that takes.


1 I'm also just sort of offended on an aesthetic level, but that's my own trip, and it would be unfair -- not to mention a little egomaniacal -- to expect Plainview or Silver Vase to care about that.
2 "Truthiness" is, approximately, the truth one wants to exist, or something that seems like it's true. The sort of truth you feel in your gut, whether it has any relationship to reality or not. It was coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005.
3 I have this awful mixed reaction to Nagel images, because they were fashionable in the 80s when I was growing up, so I internalized that they were cool and still have a Pavlovian "cool" response when I see one. They're also so associated with the 80s in my mind that they now seem dated and embarrassing in the same way feathered hair does. So when I see one, my brain starts arguing with itself, which lasts until I am distracted by something else.
We can only hope that dyed Phalaenopsis will one day seem as firmly an embarrassing fad of the past as the cover for Duran Duran's Rio (also a Patrick Nagel work) does.


Anonymous said...

I have a hard time believing that anyone who has the ambition and skill to get a Phaelanopsis to rebloom wouldn't know that their plant wasn't dyed like a carnation.

That said, we agree about the ethics of this whole marketing ploy. No publicity is bad publicity, as the ad people say.


orchideya said...

I have mixed feelings about those blue phals. On one hand I am offended, but then I know people who use phals as a part of interior. Instead of buying a bunch of cut long stemmed roses to place on the table - they buy a flowering phal and, when bloomng finishes, - just throw it away and buy another.
This is how I got my first orchid - my friend brought it as a housewarming gift and when I mentioned that I never grew them before, she suggested to just throw it when the blooms are done. After almost 5 years that phal is still here though and was the reason of my addiction.
So if people need a blue phal to match their living room walls and want to pay for it - why not give it to them. I think this is how most businesses work here.
Serious orchid grower wouldn't buy them anyways.

Anonymous said...

The garden center where I work has the best selection of orchids in the Greater Toronto Area. Hands down. Ten years ago, when I first started, corporate had little interest but I fought hard for my precious 'chids and our location now brings in hobbyists from all over Ontario. You want Angraecum, Brassia, Cynoche etc.? I got you covered. My customers who crave these things look at the blue phals with the icy disdain and hoity-toity (horty-torty?) snobbery only a horticulturist can muster. That's fine.
But I also get walk-ins who adore the silly, dyed fripperies and buy them by the boatload. They're not concerned that it'll re-bloom white - they could care less if it re-blooms at all ... ever.
Personally, I consider Impatiens hopelessly bourgeois, and wouldn't be caught dead planting them in my front yard. Millions of other people do. It doesn't make me right - it makes me a horty-tort snob.


Paul said...

Did we win? Not really but this is likely as close as we will get. Silver Vase is definitely a unethical lying sack of %#$@ and I don't foresee that ever changing.

Liza said...

I don't understand these heartless people who just throw away the plants after the blooms are done. And I definitely don't understand the businesses that cater to them. It's a giant circle of assholes.

Pat said...

I am a snob, too, but I am British so I can't really help it.

Although I might allow Dahlias in a future garden as some of them have edible tubers.

Diana said...

These plants are the cause of the closest I ever got to being kicked out of a garden center (haven't quite managed it yet...).

I saw a customer admiring the blue phals and mentioned (loudly) to the person I was with how I hated that the garden center was selling these since they were dyed and would not rebloom blue.

One of the staff overheard me (well, I was talking loudly!). She claimed that they told every person who bought one about the dying process (as she gave me a dirty look).

I'm actually glad I didn't get banned from this place since they are the only garden center that carries houseplants in the winter within about an hours drive. It's a nice place to wander into on a cold, nasty winter day.

wildstripe said...

I grow orchids, but I don't dislike them. I don't quite understand why everyone is so up-in-arms about them being dyed. I also don't understand how people can't tell they're dyed. I ALSO don't understand how people can throw away their plants when they finish blooming. The imagery of hundreds of people tossing away beautiful phals--I'm cringing.

But I've actually been experimenting with one of my white phals and dyeing. All it takes is a hypodermic needle, and it's pretty interesting. I also think the blue is really very pretty, and although I would prefer plants have their colour naturally (or through breeding or something), it's still nice to see something so exist nature. I've always wanted to see naturally black flowers of any kind. -shrug-