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New ads put scientists in the spotlight

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
March 6, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 10

In this week’s editorial, I wanted to talk to you about some interesting—and I think well-done—recent ad campaigns in the chemistry enterprise.

The first example is by Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the drug industry’s largest trade groups. If you read last week’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 restore its image and regain public trust after sustained criticism over pricing and how the industry conducts its business. The centerpiece of the campaign is a beautiful and superbly done video 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.

Earlier this year, another drug industry trade group, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, also launched a new campaign. Called “Only Just Begun,” the campaign includes a video, which does not have the movie-trailer feel of GoBoldly and as such is not as impactful. But it is ambitious in its aim, which is to demonstrate the value of drugs and medicines as well as the sector’s contribution to the U.K. economy.

A third 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. 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. Currently, it employs about 15,000 women in technical roles; the company says it will grow that figure to 20,000 by 2020.

A fourth ad had 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 what the intent was until the said date, when IKA released a video featuring Phil Baran and Jin-Quan Yu. Both scientists are seen taking part in a race, with the winner pocketing one of IKA’s recently released products.

The tone and purpose of these four 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.

In all cases, these campaigns focus on the scientists on the front line who are working to get drugs to market or doing basic research. The campaigns also 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. The latter also has an important message about gender issues in STEM and how some organizations are actively trying to attract more women into science.

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 and will change people’s lives.

Marketing is an often neglected but crucial part of our industry. It is interesting to see how it continues to evolve to reflect broader trends. The increased focus toward innovation and the people behind the science is definitely welcome, as is the level of sophistication of the campaigns. Those are good things for our industry.

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

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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