ARLINGTON, VA. — The American Plastics Council's spending on its mammoth advertising campaign is holding steady, even as its two chief competitors on the airwaves — the aluminum and steel industries — are cutting back.
APC is spending $22.2 million this year on advertising, while the tough economic conditions in the steel and aluminum industries are pushing those trade groups to cut back. Steel companies will spend about $15 million, down from $20 million in a typical year, and aluminum has cut its spending to $5 million, down from $14 million.
APC, based in Arlington, launched a new series of television, radio and print ads the week of April 30, its first new campaign in more than two years.
The substance is essentially unchanged — it continues to emphasize general health and safety messages. That is part of what APC said is its ongoing effort to keep the public's general opinion about plastics comparable to other materials.
The TV ads feature vignettes around safety and health themes. Images of protection include plastic face shields and plastic cell phones. Plastic medical products are touted for helping sick infants and a grandfather who benefits from a pacemaker.
APC said it takes a more "celebratory" tone than in past ads because its research finds that the public now feels that plastics are a good material and are not environmentally harmful. The messages are aimed at reinforcing, not converting, APC said.
"They love us — they love the material," said Susan Moore, APC's vice president of communications. "They want to hear from us."
Plastics and the other materials, aluminum, glass, paper and steel, continue to have mostly the same favorability ratings in APC's polls, said Mary Anne Hansen, director of advertising for APC.
Moore said APC's most recent polling found "tremendously high" positive ratings of the role plastics play in human health, and all-time highs in questions about industry favorability and how that affects everyday products.
That last category is where consumer problems with a specific material, like vinyl, would show up, she said. The plastics ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in public favorability were "vinyl" and "PVC," Moore said.
Plastics appears to be solidifying its message as other materials cut back in spending.
Economic troubles in the steel industry are forcing the group to cut spending from $20 million to between $14 million and $16 million this year, said Bill Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute in Pittsburgh. Some 80 percent of it is in television ads.
The steel industry has been hit by difficult economic times and is fighting for stronger U.S. government action to protect domestic steel makers, but spending should rise when that turns around, he said.
"There is every bit of the assumption that once we improve and the government does its job ... we're back in it," Heenan said.
The steel industry has seen its 5-year-old ad campaign turn public opinion around, he said. Prior to the effort, polling found two negative opinions about the industry per each positive. Now they find 20 positives per negative, he said. The campaign focuses on steel as the "most recycled material" and on steel's role in protecting people.
The industry feels it has helped maintain or expand its share in various markets, such as steel frames in construction, he said.
Steel's polling found it was in the middle rank of materials at the start of the campaign but now is in first place, Heenan said. The group is looking at changing its advertising to promote North American steel, rather than steel, he said.
The Aluminum Association will spend about $5 million this year, down from a high of $14 million when the group bought national media coverage several years ago. Industry consolidation is reducing spending, said Robin King, the association's vice president of public affairs.
Aluminum's campaign focuses on beverage cans, and this year's effort will target Southern California, King said. The $5 million figure includes spending on a Habitat for Humanity tie-in the group does, he said.
The effort is successful in boosting can sales, he said.
APC, by comparison will spend about $22.2 million this year. About 80 percent of that is on TV, followed by print and a small amount on the radio. The group spent $21 million last year, but Hansen said the extra $1.2 million reflects a change in fiscal-year budgeting and not a significant increase in spending.
APC's efforts are among the largest in the country on issue-oriented advertising spending, according to an April study from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Abortion and biotechnology groups ranked first and second, with each spending about $8 million through April 23, while plastics ranked third, spending about $2 million, the study said.