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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
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Imagine a US government agency coming to the aid of the US pulp and paper industry! Imagine US paper and paper-based packaging makers coming together in a joint program to promote demand for their products!

Since 2000, the US has seen a 56-pounds-per-person decrease in annual consumption of packaging paper and paperboard. In the same period, annual per-person consumption of printing-writing papers has decreased by 108 pounds. What to do?

In 2014, the US Department of Agriculture established a Paper and Paper-Based Packaging Board. USDA said, "The Board shall be composed of manufacturers and importers of paper and paper-based packaging that manufacture or import 100,000 short tons or more of paper and paper-based packaging during a marketing year." The reason for the establishment, in the words of the subsequently created board, was to "establish and guide promotions designed to expand demand for paper and paper-based products through the Paper Check-off uniting manufacturers and importers of these products under the Paper Research and Promotion Program established by the USDA."

Paper and board makers jumped right on it. Seats on the board were apportioned based on the regional distribution of the quantity of paper and paper-based packaging manufactured in the USA and the quantity of the same imported into the country. The 12-member board is composed of 11 paper and board makers and one importer.

The USDA's "Paper Check-off," in which 55 or more paper and paper-based packaging makers now participate, was established at a rate of $0.35 per short ton of production. The board is collecting about $25 million annually from four industry sectors including printing-writing, Kraft packaging paper, containerboard and paperboard. This income enabled the board to hire an executive director and a six-person operational staff to work with the board to plan campaign activities designed to help slow the decline in paper usage and increase demand for paper packaging.

Campaign activities? In mid-2015, the board launched a multimedia advertising campaign built on the theme, "Paper & Packaging--How Life Unfolds." The media employed included advertisements on TV, in magazines, billboards in select markets, online digital ads on consumer and retail websites and in social media. The campaign ads used a story-telling approach to remind consumers of the agreeable tenor of life with paper products, highlighting their functional and emotional role in life and how paper and packaging make life's daily routines both possible and meaningful.

The results? Among the findings of survey research, 86% of those who recall seeing campaign ads agree that even as technology advances, paper continues to play an important role in their lives--up from 73% in 2015. The statement that products that come in paper-based packaging tend to feel "more premium" rose from 52% agreement in 2015 to 66% in 2016. In 2016, 63% of respondents think more highly of companies that package their products in paper-based packaging--up from 44% in 2015. Among respondents, agreement on the reliability of corrugated board boxes for safe shipment/delivery of merchandise remained high at 84%.

What's ahead? Said Mary Anne Hanson, P&PB executive director, "In 2017, we'll be challenged to take the campaign even further. We'll push the envelope...to craft messages that people will talk about--with the ultimate goal of converting that awareness into buyer behavior."

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.


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