Special Report: Case study on GE Plastics

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What do Volkswagen Beetles, Gillette Mach3 razors and Nokia cell phones have in common?

For the people at GE Plastics the answer is easy. Each of these sleek, iconic products was, in part, made with GE Plastics' resins. But perhaps more importantly for the Pittsfield, Mass.-based resin manufacturer, these easily recognizable items have helped GE Plastics successfully reposition its brand through an award-winning campaign.

Advertiser: GE Plastics, Pittsfield, Mass.
Campaign: "Throw a curve, gain an edge," corporate rebranding effort
Objective: Re-establish the company as the recognized leader in its field.
Agency: HSR Business-to-Business Inc., Cincinnati
Budget: More than $1 million
Media: Print
Results: Brand recognition soared to the No. 1 company in the resins industry, as well as the one leaving the best overall impression. Previously, only 3% of U.S. business managers recognized GE Plastics as a player in its industry, with the DuPont brand and others ranking much higher.
"We realized we were losing some of our recognition and perhaps some of our respect and prestige," said Rick Pocock, GE Plastics' marketing communications manager. "We studied the competitive landscape and what strengths differentiated us. At the end of day, we found we were not just delivering plastic products but delivering a competitive advantage, our true value proposition."

Armed with this realization, Pocock's team and the company's agency, HSR Business-to-Business Inc., developed a campaign featuring the products GE Plastics played an important part in creating. Each ad highlighted one product, like the new Beetle, and the tagline "Sometimes you have to throw the competition a curve to gain an edge" wrapped around the single image.

When it came time to actually place the new campaign, which won runner-up in Business Marketing's 1999 Sawyer Awards and was named a finalist for the American Business Media's Creative Excellence in Business Advertising Awards the same year, the team again tried something different.

"We decided to go around the usual suspects and go further upstream in the decision-making process," said Rick Segal, HSR B2B chairman-CEO. Rather than just running the new ads in plastics industry trade publications, the team placed the campaign in Business Week and Fortune, as well as high-end design magazines such as Design News, Machine Design and ID Magazine.

In an attempt to reach opportunity-rich markets, GE placed ads in vertical publications like Automotive News, Automotive Engineering International and Ward's Auto World. GE Plastics also placed electronic versions of the ads on its Web site Prior to the 1999 rebranding effort, only 3% of U.S. business managers surveyed could cite General Electric Co. as a plastic producer, while top competitors such as DuPont ranked much higher. Similarly, other studies indicated that while design engineers had an easier time identifying GE as a player in plastics, they widely misidentified the company as being pricey and non-collaborative.

A year later, when the company surveyed readers of publications that carried the campaign, the results were dramatically different. Not only did more readers name GE Plastics the No. 1 resin supplier, they also cited the company as having the best overall positive impression and the most improved positive impression in its field—the closest competitor lagged behind by 10 percentage points. "Going from the lowest to highest [in recognition] is one of the most gratifying parts [of the campaign] to us," Pocock said.

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