Sponsored By

Plastics faced a public relations nightmare in the early 1990s, with the material targeted by more than 500 pieces of legislation at the local and state level that sought to reduce its use or ban the material outright.

PlasticsToday Staff

August 18, 2011

4 Min Read
Plastics (still) make it possible

Plastics faced a public relations nightmare in the early 1990s, with the material targeted by more than 500 pieces of legislation at the local and state level that sought to reduce its use or ban the material outright. To combat the negative public sentiment that fueled the legislative onslaught, the American Plastics Council (part of the American Chemistry Council) launched a $30 million national advertising and public relations campaign in 1992, with the first television ads on air in 1993 ending with the soon-familiar tagline, 'Plastics Make it Possible.'

The ads aren't back, but the slogan and a new PR campaign utilizing a mix of public outreach and social media was launched in late 2009, attempting to stem a new tide of anti-plastics fervor. Then as now, the industry faces an uphill battle. Polling in October of 1992 showed that Americans believed the environmental risks associated with plastic use outweighed the benefits of plastic usage. The Plastics Make it Possible campaign stopped the freefall in public attitudes towards plastics within 18 months, and within 36 months, an overwhelming number of Americans believed that the benefits of plastics outweighed the environmental risks.

Bringing back Plastics Make it Possible

Steve Russell, VP of plastics for the ACC, wanted to revitalize the old tagline, which had resonated so well in the past, as the association ramped up plastics advocacy again after a hiatus. "We realized that it had been a while after the campaign ended since we had had any kind of concerted effort to reconnect with consumers to remind them about the many benefits that plastics products provided," Russell told PlasticsToday. The ACC also was aware that the cost of another national advertising campaign would be prohibitive. Luckily, some outreach tools that weren't around in 1992 could help. "We thought it would be interesting to see if we could use the same approach of connecting plastics with possiblity and do it using new media and finding different ways of reaching consumers with that message," Russell explained. "We said, 'It's about time again to look and see if we can capitalize on the benefits of reaching out to consumers but do it in a way that's more cost effective, reflecting a different economic time, and a time when new technologies are available to us to see what we could do with that space.'"

In addition to Facebook (671 likes) and Twitter (643 followers), Jennifer Killinger, senior director of sustainability and public outreach at the ACC, said the group is also networking with third parties who have their own blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages. "It's not just a one-dimensional 'this is the plastics industry, reaching out,'" Killinger said. "It's really about engaging with consumers and with third parties who have expertise with various topics that consumers are interested in and then joining those conversations that are taking place and basically make the connection, helping people understand the relevance of plastics in those topic areas."

Plastics in fashion, food, cars and more

In June, the Plastics Make it Possible initiative participated in the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, partnering with entertaining and food personality Sissy Biggers to showcase the latest trends in plastics that help make outdoor entertaining easier and more elegant. In May, at the 2011 New York International Auto Show, Plastics Make it Possible hosted a panel of automotive experts on how the material can create lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles. In March, it sponsored the GenEx fashion show in LA that continued on into LA and New York's Fashion Weeks. The ACC sponsored a design competition to give up and coming designers an opportunity to win a prize and have their design featured on the Plastics Make it Possible web site. Coming up in October, Plastics Make it Possible is pairing with Brooks Utley, of HGTV's $250,000 challenge, to highlight plastics innovations at the Department of Energy's biennial, Solar Decathlon, where teams compete to build energy efficient homes.

Looking for 'light bulb' moments

In these events and others, Russell and Killinger say engaging people who are passionate about things like food, fashion, and cars, and showing them the role plastics plays in those fields, is having an impact. "Sometimes it's the really simple stuff about the benefits of plastics," Russell said. "There's a lightbulb moment, where it's like, 'Wow, I would really hate to be without that material.' That's what we're going for."

The ACC hasn't done any formal polling of its renewed Plastics Make it Possible efforts, but it is trying to track the impact. "We're looking more at simple measures of success," Russell said. "What's the media interest; what's the consumer interest; are we getting traffic on the website-that kind of thing. We are seeing that people who do engage express appreciation for having been given information they didn't have before or helping them have a lightbulb moment."

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like