Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Polycarbonate and the Power of the Brand name

In this blog post we have moved away from our normal technical content to discuss a subject that has some major implications for the Polycarbonate sheet market place. The question that we will address is: Are powerful brand names still as important as they once were in the plastic sheet market?

There is no doubt that in the past brand names such as Lexan for Polycarbonate and Plexiglas for Acrylic dominated the market. These products were often specified in to projects and could command a premium price from customers due to actual or perceived quality. We decided to look and see if customers were still referring to the brand names or were just looking for Polycarbonate.
As the web is one of the primary means that customers use to find out information about a product, we decided to look at the search interest for "Polycarbonate" and "Lexan" in the United States. In the first graph, we can see that the search interest for Polycarbonate has remained relatively constant since 2004 with some minor decrease due to the economy.

In the second graph we can see that the search interest for Lexan has dropped off significantly and steadily since 2004. As there is still a good interest in Polycarbonate it is possible to conclude that customers are using the generic term Polycarbonate in searches while moving away from the brand name Lexan. Now this information does not mean that Lexan sales have decreased, customers searching for Polycarbonate may still buy Lexan products. However, it does suggest that the brand name value maybe decreasing and if this is the case, the price premium may also be decreasing.

There are of course many events that have happened over time that may explain this trend. During the period being examined, GE Plastics sold the Lexan Polycarbonate part of the operations to SABIC. This transfer of Lexan from a traditional American company to a Saudi Arabian company could certainly affect the branding strategy and the search interest of the brand.

To see if the affect of the brand importance was confined to Lexan, we also decided to look at the other powerhouse brand in the US clear sheet market - Plexiglas. In the graph below we can see how the Plexiglas name has also decreased in search importance. Of course it can be argued that the transfer of the brand from the respected US company Rohm and Haas to a less well known French company Arkema is similar to the situation at Lexan, at least in the US market shown in the graph,

The results of search importance for both Lexan and Plexiglas lead us to question whether brand is as important as it once was in the US clear sheet market. Having questioned this point, there is still no doubt that these names are still valuable branding tools both now and for the foreseeable future. Now that customers, using the internet, are able to evaluate the alternative options more efficiently, the brand name may not be the dominant factor in the purchasing decision.
We would be interested to hear your comments on whether you think brand names are still as important in the plastics industry as they once were and if not, what are the implications?

Lexan is a brand name of SABIC Basic Industries Corp. Plexiglas is a brand name of Arkema Inc.


  1. If we ever fully understood brand names, we could ax half the marketers in the country! That's not enough, but it would a good start ;)

    A confounding factor in the analysis could be that people are searching for polycarbonate quite a bit these days because of the BPA scare. That would keep the searchs for "polycarbonate" up while other one are dropping. I just don't have a good explanation as to why they (both brandnames) would be dropping. That they both are is the more intriguing question than how they are dropping relative to the generic name.

    Other thoughts on branding: Plexiglas in my mind has become more and more generic all the time, and I don't think I'm alone (see this post at The Rheol World. As his story illustrates, a brand name going generic happens with non-industrial consumers [*]. I don't think Lexan ever caught on as much with consumers. I also am not sure that most people could tell the difference if you give them a piece - they both are clear and somewhat flexible.

    I wish someone could explain to me the situation with Mylar. To all but the few people who process PET (and lots of people at DuPont), Mylar means an aluminum vapor coated PET film. Mylar is actually DuPont's brandname for PET film, vapor coated or otherwise, and yet most people only thick of the shiny one. Why?

    So there you have my thoughts. It's a messy subject I would be curious to see others thoughts.

  2. A great point on the BPA issue, I am sure that it is keeping the Polycarbonate figures high.

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