The Future Is in Plastics, And Every Other Chemical

American Chemistry Council plans to broaden message

A typical marketing problem in a merger is how to create one corporate positioning out of two.

But the dilemma is more peculiar when one of the two positionings is well-known and successful but must be made over to fit the needs of the merger. The American Chemistry Council and the American Plastics Council have been dealing with that problem since their union in January 2002. The “Plastics make it possible” campaign is widely considered to be a hit, and the ACC wants a piece of the action. The result may be an expanded campaign to show the importance of all chemicals—not just plastics—in everyday life.

The ACC hired Ogilvy & Mather in April to create such a branding strategy and present it June 4 to its board of directors. By positioning chemicals in a more favorable light, the ACC believes it can increase profits, ease burdensome federal regulation and educate the public in the hope of reducing the amount of jury awards, according to a copy of the business plan obtained by Adweek.

If the board approves the “American chemistry” strategy in October, it will likely merge it with the plastics work, now handled by Grey in New York. “The idea is a slow integration of the plastics campaign to a blended campaign with chemistry over time,” said ACC rep Morrie Goodman.

The client is proposing spending $40 million on ads next year, $45 million in 2005 and $36 million in 2006.

Ogilvy managing director John Seifert said his shop showed an integrated communications plan—complete with billboards, pamphlets, TV spots and Web sites—that would target industry employees, policy makers and “informed Americans.” “This is an industry that hasn’t given people peace of mind,” Seifert said. “Chemicals can be dangerous. Part of the objective is seeing the potential good but also showing this is an industry that takes these issues extremely seriously and is prepared to be open and more transparent.”

In its presentation, Ogilvy focused on the word essential, followed by the subscript “2”—as in, “essential2living,” “essential2security” and “essential2everything.” The caption “essential2hip-hop” appeared under the picture of a kid with a walkman.

In the business plan, the ACC argues “an improved public perception of the chemical industry can create a more favorable business climate with significant economic benefits.”

The ACC estimates that legislative and regulatory initiatives including the Chemical Security Act, which requires chemical plants to beef up security to counter terrorist threats, could cost the industry $1.4 billion. What’s more, the business plan notes that “a recent public opinion poll found that more than 68 percent of Americans believe the chemical industry is not sufficiently regulated.”

Enhancing the industry’s reputation could save ACC’s 155 member companies about $1.5 billion a year, the business plan says.

The fate of Grey, which has handled plastics since 1999 and just broke a $20 million campaign, is an open question. “We don’t know,” Goodman said. “Nobody has gone there.” Grey executives could not be reached.

—with Kathleen Sampey