Editor’s Desk: Putting Scientists in the Spotlight

C&EN's editor in chief writes about a few ad campaigns that have caught her eye, - and why they matter for our industry.

By Bibiana Campos Seijo

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In a recent C&EN editorial, I talked about a few ad campaigns in the chemistry enterprise. These ads struck a chord with me, not just because they were high-profile campaigns, but because they followed a pattern the C&EN Marketing Elements blog has been chronicling for our advertisers for some time.

The first example is by the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the drug industry’s largest trade groups. If you read February 27th’s issue of C&EN, you’ll remember that our cover story opened with a description of PhRMA’s newest campaign, “GoBoldly.”

The campaign, as reporter Rick Mullin describes, is an attempt by the pharmaceutical industry to regain public trust after sustained criticism over pricing and how the industry conducts its business. The centerpiece of the campaign is a beautiful commercial, with high production standards. It really feels like a movie trailer, with excerpts from a poem by Dylan Thomas and music by composer Jonathan B. Buchanan.

GE Direct Marketing ExampleAnother recently launched ad is part of a campaign sponsored by GE titled “What If Scientists Were Celebrities?” It stars Millie Dresselhaus, the nanoscience pioneer and advocate for women in science, who passed away on Feb. 20, shortly after the campaign launched. The ad imagines a world where Dresselhaus is a celebrity like Angelina Jolie or Beyoncé, making it onto the cover of magazines, with girls on the streets dressing like her and styling their hair in plaits like she did.

This campaign was paired with an announcement by GE that the company is committing to hiring more women in science, technology, engineering, and math positions. From extensive social media promotions, tv spots, to direct mail campaigns, this has been a truly integrated campaign designed to push GE’s diversity agenda: Currently, GE employs about 15,000 women in technical roles; the company says it will grow that figure to 20,000 by 2020.

A third ad drew a lot of attention on social media, as it was one of those campaigns that leaves you hanging: IKA gave us two names and a date and called it “The Race.” That was it. Nobody knew the intent until the said date, when IKA released a video featuring Phil Baran and Jin-Quan Yu. Both scientists are seen competing on the racetrack, with the winner pocketing one of IKA’s recently released products.

The tone and purpose of these campaigns are completely different. But they share something that is positive for scientists: They don’t focus so much on companies or products, as has been traditional, but instead spotlight the people—anonymous chemists in some cases; high-profile, well-known individuals in others—driving scientific development.

There will still always be a time and place for the strict product promotion. Sometimes, a sale’s a sale. But all these recent campaigns focused on the scientists on the front line who are working to get drugs to market or doing basic research. The campaigns tell a story. They humanize these scientists: through humor in the case of Baran and Yu and through the vulnerability of turning into a global celebrity in the case of Dresselhaus.

There is also an undertone of innovation, competitiveness, and potential to make the world a better place through the work of trailblazing individuals who pursue ideas, persist in their research, and create products that can change people’s lives. Marketing can often be neglected, when it should be recognized as a crucial part of our industry. Ads can help us reinforce an increased focus toward innovation and promote the people behind the science, – which are good things for our industry.

So here goes the spoiler alert: Baran wins the race and he’s kind of gracious about it…

Bibiana Campos Seijo C&EN advertising

Bibiana Campos Seijo

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