The chemical industry kicked off a $20 million marketing campaign Sept. 22 designed to boost its sagging public image and promote the benefits of chemicals, a move that conversely means the end of the long-running plastics advertising effort.
The new campaign run by the American Chemistry Council will shift resources away from the long-running American Plastics Council advertising program, and will mean much less visibility for its well-known ``Plastics Make It Possible'' message. Instead of that slogan plastered all over television, the plastics message now will be subsumed into the larger chemical industry program.
Part of the decision is driven by economics: In a tough economy, chemical and plastics manufacturers do not want to fund two separate campaigns. The plastics effort had cost roughly $20 million a year.
And part of the move is driven by a sense among the campaign's architects that they can protect the gains made by the APC campaign, while leveraging them to improve the dismal public opinion of the chemical industry.
At the moment, the chemical industry generally fares only slightly better than nuclear power and tobacco companies in public opinion polling.
Chemical executives said they hope a well-designed campaign can turn that around, in the same way that the $250 million-plus APC has spent on ads since 1992 has helped plastics meet environmental and deselection pressures, and become relatively accepted by the public.
``For many years, others have defined the value, meaning and impact of chemicals and chemistry in our lives, and many times not very accurately or evenhandedly,'' said Robert Wood, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Chemtura Corp. and a leader of the ACC effort. ``Now it's our turn.''
The campaign's television ads tout a message that chemicals are essential to daily life, and show household objects disappearing when chemistry is taken away. Both of the ads previewed at a New York unveiling ceremony conclude with text like a chemical formula saying that chemicals are ``essential2'' things like plastics, medicines and other staples of life.
The effort will go beyond TV, however, and will be broader than the APC effort. With print ads, a revamped Web site and other communication, ACC will tout the industry's economic strength state by state, and highlight that it provides 885,000 jobs, more than $500 billion annually to the U.S. economy and is the country's leading export industry.
The ACC program also will seek to enlist employees to talk-up the industry with neighbors and in the community. While it has a mass-media component, ACC officials want to target several key groups: employees, ``better-informed'' Americans, policy makers and the financial community.
Arlington, Va.-based ACC will spend $15 million the rest of this year and $20 million in 2006.
The chemical effort clearly has a ways to go with the public.
By a key measure of an industry's standing, called a favorability rating, the chemical industry scores in the upper 40s, while plastics and other materials score in the low 60s, said Greg Wilkinson, vice president of public affairs at Nova Chemicals Corp. in Pittsburgh and head of the advertising component of the ACC campaign.
Wood, a former APC chairman, said pulling the plug on plastics-only ads is not without risk that public opinion of plastics will suffer. But he said officials have studied the move carefully and believe they can maintain the standing of plastics.
APC President Rod Lowman said APC did not see any dip in plastics ratings when it cut ad spending in half in 2004, to $10 million, to save money. Arlington-based APC will continue to monitor public opinion about plastics.
``We'll see if anything slips, but we're not really expecting it,'' Lowman said. Outside of a few areas, like California, the plastics industry is not seeing a lot of public pressure, he said.
Jeff Lipton, Nova president and CEO, chairman of ACC's executive board and a former APC chairman, also said there is risk in eliminating APC's program, but he said the gains for plastics can be protected. And, plastics stand to gain if the campaign improves the chemical industry's image, he added.
The difficult economy caused some APC members to question whether they needed to keep funding the APC ads, given the gains that the plastics industry had seen, Lipton said. Reducing trade association costs was a key reason the industry merged APC into ACC in 2002.
Wilkinson said one way the industry will know if its campaign is working is if it finds more success in pushing its priorities with government officials in areas such as energy policy and chemical security.
He also said the changing challenges faced by industry make it a good time to combine the two campaigns. When APC launched its campaign more than a decade ago, plastics-specific issues such as solid waste and recycling were center-stage.
Now, the larger questions faced by plastics, like toxicity and health, are also major challenges for the larger chemical industry, he said.