A cost-prohibitive tariff blocked Brazil from sharing sugarcane ethanol in the U.S. for more than 30 years. With the import tax on ethanol slated to expire again after being extended consistently since 1980, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association enlisted Stratacomm to lead an aggressive advocacy program that would educate Americans about the many benefits of this unfamiliar renewable fuel and persuade lawmakers to end the unfair tariff. The two-year “Sweeter Alternative“ campaign built significant grassroots support, generated widespread positive media coverage and helped influence a bipartisan 73-27 vote in the U.S. Senate that sealed the tariff’s fate. The trade barrier expired on Dec. 31, 2011.
Our team began by commissioning public opinion research that yielded three benefits: messaging, audience targeting and confidence that the campaign was winnable. We also engaged the leading agricultural economists at Iowa State University whose research found that Americans would actually benefit from ending the tax credit and trade protection.
Armed with this information, Stratacomm developed and continually refined a robust communications plan with a singular objective – to persuade lawmakers to end the ethanol import tariff as soon as possible. A day-long brainstorming session with UNICA in February 2010 helped solidify our strategy and identify many of the campaign’s tactics, including our overall theme that sugarcane ethanol is a “Sweeter Alternative.”
Stratacomm and UNICA accomplished their singular objective. An overwhelming bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate voted 73-27 to end the import tax immediately in June 2011. The House of Representatives never acted on the companion legislation, but the Senate vote sealed the tariff’s fate. For the first time in 30 years, the ethanol import tax expired without extension on Dec. 31, 2011. The Sweeter Alternative advocacy campaign helped make tariff elimination possible, and each of our strategies yielded significant, positive results:
- Educate policymakers, media and key opinion leaders – More than 151 newspaper editorials supporting UNICA’s position in publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and others from more than 40 states; nearly 75 supportive op-eds including 15 bylined by our clients.
- Mobilize grassroots advocates – 115,000 emails and letters sent to federal lawmakers; more than 26,000 signatures on a petition calling for an end to the ethanol tariff and subsidies; 26,000 new contacts added to UNICA’s grassroots database; 1,235 letters to the editor submitted through SweeterAlternative.com; and 1,200 Facebook fans and nearly 1,100 followers on Twitter built from scratch.
- Position UNICA as a trusted source – More than 165 news stories quoting UNICA spokespeople reached an estimated audience of 75 million; the new website established itself as a highly trafficked, valuable resource for influencing members of Congress and shaping the debate with average monthly traffic during the campaign’s peak (May 1, 2010-Nov. 30, 2010) hitting 10,127 visits per month; average pages viewed reached 24,535; visitors stayed more than two minutes per visit; and YouTube videos on the Sweeter Alternative channel were viewed more than 20,000 times.