The new advertising in the American Plastics Council's mammoth public image campaign has one basic goal: maintain what APC officials say is record-high favorability for plastics in its public opinion polls.
APC launched new ads June 11, the first change in two years. As the group kicks off the new campaign, it interprets those high favorability ratings, slightly above competing materials, as evidence that media coverage and concerns about environmental and chemical health issues surrounding plastics are not taking root with the general public.
APC said the $19 million it will spend next year buying air time and print advertising is one of the lowest amounts it will spend since it started 11 years ago. But association officials said spending still will remain well within the range of the last several years, and above the low year of 1997, when APC cut spending to just $17 million and saw its public image ratings fall.
The new ad campaign includes a different mix this time around - more short 15-second ads and more targeted marketing at cable television shows that reach the chief demographic APC seeks. That's in part a response to continued advertising price inflation, particularly in prime-time television.
There could be other changes on the horizon. APC's parent, the American Chemistry Council, is seriously considering its own $40 million-a-year campaign to boost the poor public image of the chemical industry.
While APC officials stressed that ACC member companies want to protect their significant investment in plastics, they said it's too soon to say how any potential ACC effort would impact the plastics campaign, or whether any of the plastics effort would become part of the ACC campaign. All of APC's 23 resin companies are members of ACC.
``Obviously money will be an issue and money will be discussed,'' said APC President Rod Lowman. ``What might be the impact for the APC campaign going forward? I don't think we know that.''
But he said that since plastics is more than half the sales for many ACC companies, no one wants to see the image of plastics falter: ``No one is going to do anything to hurt plastic's favorability. That is just a top priority.''
APC is unveiling four new television ads, five radio and six magazine promotions, all stressing familiar themes of health and safety. For example, one of two new 30-second spots takes a light-hearted look at a child being protected by plastic while he grows up.
The second tells the very serious story of a new, dissolvable plastic that is implanted in the brain and delivers medicine to fight tumors, sparing a patient from chemotherapy. APC said it's a more emotional, heart-tugging ad than the group has tried in the past.
Lowman said APC is getting more efficient at its media buying. The spending in this campaign will have the same reach and frequency as earlier efforts because the group has done new research that lets it target the best niche for its message. It includes cable networks like Home and Garden, Lifetime and A&E, he said.
APC spokesman Robert Krebs said the group doesn't like to talk about what that niche is, because it does not want to help ``those who would have an agenda against the plastics industry.''
APC targets people who are more moved to react either positively or negatively to plastics issues, a group that is more readily identified by philosophical or life outlooks, rather than targeting a traditional age or gender demographic, Lowman said.
``We do a lot of research to find out what the groups of people are [who] are out there,'' said Krebs. APC identifies what it will cost to influence different groups, and then calculates which ones it can move most effectively, he said.
``The characteristics of that group are pretty arcane,'' he said.
At one level, the ads seem innocuous, like souped-up public service announcements featuring both routine and dramatic scenes from life, such as plastic protecting someone in a car crash. But the campaign has less-immediate political benefits in that it emphasizes the benefits of the plastics, APC said.
``What the ad campaign does is reassure the legislators that they have cover in the public mind about the true benefits of the material, so if they care to step forward ... they can be more forceful about it, knowing there is cover out there,'' Krebs said.
APC said its recent polling puts plastics at a favorability rating of 68, an all-time high, compared with 52 on the 1-100 scale when the industry started major advertising in 1992. APC officials cautioned that unforeseen events easily could lower the number.
Lowman said APC is not exactly sure why the rating has hit a high. Competing materials like steel and aluminum have cut back their ad programs in recent years, from well over $10 million to $3 million for aluminum and $2 million for steel this year. But APC officials discount that as a reason for their rise.
It could be public skepticism about conflicting results from scientific studies, or post-Sept. 11 changes in public worries, he said.
``We know it's not just the ads,'' Lowman said. ``Even though we've seen some uptick related to overall negative media coverage related to plastics and chemicals and plastics and health, some of it is just not breaking through.''