Challenge

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 Approach

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.”

Results

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: