Per capita use of paper has dropped 46 percent since 2000, the industry says.
Per capita use of paper has dropped 46 percent since 2000, the industry says. - 
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To the paper industry, you’re half the consumer you used to be.

Thanks to e-mail, e-vites and e-readers, the industry says per capita use of paper has dropped 46 percent since the year 2000, and shreds about 5 percent each year.

But paper manufacturers want you back. This year, they’re pouring tens of millions of dollars into a campaign in the hope you’ll think good thoughts about the product.

Few would disagree that paper gets a bad rap. Signature lines on e-mails often remind us to “Save a tree. Don’t print.” Bill collectors encourage us to “Go paperless. Go green.” And when we don’t, we feel guilty.

“That guilt is definitely an issue we have to deal with” says Christian Fischer, executive vice president of Georgia Pacific’s packaging segment. Fischer says dealing with the decline means trying to change paper’s perception “on the margin.”  In other words, reach those who haven’t already made up their minds on the evils of paper.   

For decades, that’s been an ever-smaller crowd, causing paper manufacturing plants to close and leading to industry consolidation.

As one analyst puts it, the paper industry has been in the hospital for a long time. At this point, there’s nothing left to do but sign its discharge papers and hand over a prescription.

But there’s a twist. The medicine is for consumers and the drug regimen is a campaign called “How Life Unfolds.”

The industry’s trade group, the Paper and Packaging Board, is set to spend $170-million on commercials and other marketing over the next seven years, says Executive Director Mary Anne Hansan.

"What we really want to do with this campaign is reinforce how our products connect people with what’s important in their life [sic] — whether it’s connections with people, whether it’s getting their personal goals accomplished,” says Hansan.

That’s the premise of the campaign’s first commercial, called “Letters to Dad.” It features a young boy who writes to his father overseas via  paper airplanes. He then sails them across his backyard fence. While he hopes they’re getting to dad, the next-door neighbor collects them.

Then, one day, the paper airplanes suddenly fly back into the boy’s yard. This time, though, they carry his father’s responses.

The 30-second plug tugs at the heartstrings. But will it be enough to change the public’s declining view of the product?

“They have a tough, uphill climb,” notes University of Georgia advertising professor Karen King.

King says the commercial’s emotional appeal is effective, however.

“I actually think the campaign does a pretty good job of making you realize there are certain things only paper can do,” says King.

For example, announcing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Anne Wilson

Anne Wilson

Atlanta’s Anne Wilson, 25, is in the early stages of planning her wedding. She says she never considered sending e-vites that cost nearly nothing.  

“We’re inviting all of our friends across the country, so I’d like it to be personal,” says Wilson.

To her, paper was the only option, which is why she’s brought her $2,000 budget to Paper Daisies, a specialty stationery company in Atlanta. For that amount of cash, she’ll get “save the date” notices, “thank you” cards and everything in between. But the bride gets more than just paper, says Lisa Hladish, who owns Paper Daisies.

“When you sit down and send an invitation out, you have to think about it,” says Hladish. “I think there is an emotional connection with paper.”

The Paper and Packaging Board doesn’t expect its campaign will foster that type of emotional connection with, say, your utility bill.

It doesn’t have to.

Fisher, the executive with Georgia Pacific, says if the campaign moves the needle just one third of one percent in the industry’s favor, it will double the money it’s spending.

 

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