The Contradiction at the Heart of Our Consumer Research, And How We Resolve It
Our story continues to evolve as well as the paradox. When the Paper and Packaging Board was created by an industry-wide referendum nearly a decade ago, the idea was to give our companies a single voice, with a previously unprecedented financial reach, to tell our story.
Last year we updated our focus to the current sustainability campaign that hit the market at the same time sustainability was becoming central to consumers’ purchase decision making. Decisions were no longer just about what was inside the box - the box itself was increasingly part of the purchase consideration.
And yet we find a persistent paradox in our Consumer Attitudes and Usage (A&U) tracking surveys. The paradox is this: Consumers consider us to be a sustainable, environmentally friendly choice, especially compared to prominent alternatives. In fact, they think very highly of us across the board. And yet they still tend to believe negative messages indicating America’s forests are unhealthy, when overall, that is not the case.
Consider this datapoint from our last A&U survey: More than half of the core consumers we want to reach believe the paper and packaging industry is engaged in deforestation. We know that’s not true. For one thing, deforestation isn’t an issue generally in the U.S. In fact, the amount of forestland in the U.S. is highly stable after decades of expanding from mid-century lows. For another, the very definition of deforestation is the permanent conversion of forestland into non-forest use. That’s simply the opposite of the business we are in.
We’re in the business of growing and maintaining forests so they can be healthy and robust sources of fiber for all time. When we harvest trees, forests are returned at a volume of nearly double what is used.
So why do many consumers—especially younger consumers—believe otherwise? Why, even more perplexingly, do 42% of our core “Expressives” consumers believe, incorrectly, that the industry cuts down trees in National Parks?
Well part of it goes back to the problem P+PB was created to solve: The lack of a unified industry voice to tell our story, not just to our direct B2B customers, but to ordinary consumers as well.
As we expand our portfolio of sustainability communications, we are going to tackle those myths about the health of our forests in advertising, PR and social media that underpin consumers’ guilt about using our products.
We are also continuing our vigilance about spotting and tackling myths and misapprehensions when we see them to make sure our paid and earned media messages aren’t muffled by old myths and storylines that stand unchallenged and therefore persist in the larger discourse.