INSIGHT: Plastics to woo millennials - how tweet it is

25 June 2009 17:30  [Source: ICIS news]

Where the battle over plastics is being wagedBy Joe Kamalick

CHICAGO (ICIS news)--The US plastics industry plans to spend $3m (€2.2m) a year in a long-term campaign to reach and influence the nation’s young adults right where they live - online.

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) announced the multi-million dollar outreach plan at the National Plastics Exhibition (NPE) in Chicago this week, warning that nothing less than the future of the industry is at stake.

SPI President Bill Carteaux told a conference audience that the expensive campaign - scheduled to launch in the third quarter this year - is necessary and essential to combat a broad assault on plastics in consumer and health care products.

Carteaux cited anti-plastics legislation and rules at federal, state and local levels and so-called “retail regulation”, in which major retail outlets remove plastic products or packaging from shelves in response to high-profile pressure, often from only a few activists.

“Legislation and regulation threaten to fundamentally change our business model,” Carteaux said, citing recent moves at federal and state levels to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, bisphenol-A and phthalates

“Industry opponents are vocal, organised and active, both online and politically,” he said, noting that “the online environment allows misinformation to travel around the globe in seconds.”

Even though accusations made by industry opponents need not be true, Carteaux said, the speed and global reach of the internet can impart credibility where none exists. 

He said the industry thus far has failed to meet the internet challenge posed by well-funded environmental groups, with manufacturers focused on doing business and trade associations often reacting to hostile and damaging campaigns only after the battle is lost.

“As a result, our opponents are unilaterally defining the terms of the debate that will shape the future of our industry,” Carteaux warned.

In response, Carteaux said SPI, in cooperation with the American Chemistry Council (ACC), is planning a new internet-based campaign will be aimed at “engaging consumers at a completely different level than we ever have before”.

The campaign will focus an internet-based approach to the so-called millennial generation, those aged 18-28 who are now completing college, entering the workforce, starting families and buying first homes.

That generation, numbering 50m, lives online, Carteaux said, saying that is where the industry must engage them.

“So far, the plastics industry has not been plugged in to the discussion,” and “we have mostly become engaged on a reactive basis, after the issue is a page-one item.”

Carteaux said that SPI has already spent $400,000 to research issues of importance to the millennials demographic, and among other things learned that 89% are likely or very likely to switch brands based on a strong association with a good cause.

“Many people in this group have begun to rally around plastic-related issues online, most notably around issues of the environment and sustainability,” he said. However, “the conversations about plastic lack the industry’s viewpoint, allowing others to define the debate”.

That said, the industry does enjoy a positive image on many issues among millennials. “Some 45% of them have positive feelings about the plastics industry, although it is a soft, ‘somewhat positive’ response,” Carteaux noted, citing the research.

Another 31% of millennials expressed no opinion about the plastics industry, Carteaux said, suggesting that that neutral group offers an opportunity to shape opinion with an outreach campaign.

Carteaux said that the millennial generation is open to discussion and positive information about plastics, but he said that they must be engaged in the electronic environments where they live, including Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter and a broad field of blogs.

In addition to reaching millennial consumers, Carteaux said the campaign also will be designed to provide industry information to policymakers and media.

He noted, for example, that the research showed that 73% of staff in the US Congress prefer online resources for policy analysis and information, that 53% of congressional staffers are active blog readers - and that 49% of congressional staff use the internet as a primary research tool within 24 hours of a legislative vote.

A key strategy in the campaign will be predictive counsel, an issues-shaping technique that requires early identification of consumer concerns online so that industry can respond and deal with those concerns before the problem becomes a “page one” issue that is beyond recall.

The campaign will include a new website and, more importantly, develop blogs, create videos, initiate Facebook and MySpace groups and join and create Twitter feeds.

Altogether, the multi-front online campaign will create relationships and networking opportunities for industry to engage and mobilize community leaders, Carteaux said, and help balance the online debate about plastics.

But it will take money, Carteaux said, calling on industry executives at the NPE conference to make generous donations to the effort, noting that the $3m/year campaign cannot be funded from regular SPI dues revenue.

He said he also is seeking support funding for the SPI campaign from major plastics customer groups, such as the housing, automotive, healthcare and computer industries, along with personal car product makers and the packaging sector.

In short, the industry can pay for the campaign now - or pay dearly more later.

($1 = €0.72)

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Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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