First Draft of a Pro-Chemistry Ad Campaign

May 15th, 2012

I have used this blog to opine that the American Chemical Society—and chemists in general—need to do more to improve the public image of chemistry. I think one effective method to advance this goal would be to design an ad campaign in the fashion of Dow Chemical’s “Better Living Through Chemistry.” Of course, it is easy to sit behind a computer monitor and shout at the ACS to do this. It is much more difficult to get the job done. So, in an effort to increase my credentials for yelling at the ACS, I decided to give it a shot myself. After all, how hard could it be to come up with a good idea for a pro-chemistry ad campaign?

It’s hard.

It is easy to come up with examples where chemistry and chemicals have helped society, and you can patch together some tag lines, but it is hard to make everything fit together. I was looking to: (i) do something visually appealing, (ii) introduce a decent slogan, and (iii) educate the public with a small, digestible morsel of the good of chemistry. Here’s what I came up with:

 

 

I am not enamored with it at all, but I’ll stand behind it as a first draft. Even if it’s thoroughly mediocre, at least it is something. If we continue to do nothing, the public image of chemistry and chemicals will continue to deteriorate, and it won’t be long before the chemical industry and research funding suffer serious consequences.

Anyway, I think you could extend the idea with other cool pictures and stories (e.g., “a chemical saved my life” with a patient on Gleevec or “a chemical saved my car” featuring some lubricant…whatever).

Credit: I took the photo above from the page of Flickr user treesftf, who kindly made it available for use with a CC-BY license. Also, I completely fabricated the story.


46 Responses to “First Draft of a Pro-Chemistry Ad Campaign”

  1. RussellSteapot Says:

    A chemical didn’t save his farm…a chemist did.

    Maybe co-opt that mid ’70’s Elton John song: A Chemist saved my life tonight.

  2. BlueBaron Says:

    It’s good to get these ideas out there. This whole effort reminds me too much of Edward Bernays style “engineered consent.” The ACS main audience is chemists, and they, along with all of the members, are probably too cynical to be this aggressive on PR.

    The main problem with ‘chemicals’ is that the term evokes negative thoughts in most people. People obviously don’t know the chemistry definition of chemicals, they think of things in labelled bottles that combine into mystery potions with dangerous properties. Chemicals are part of the back room process, the externality in otherwise useful things like pesticides, drugs, plastics, gasoline. Even those words are controversial.

    It may be easier to find an effective treatment for most cancers than to re-reengineer the lexicon. Probably, the focus should be on getting people to support our work and us, even if they still think negatively of ‘chemicals’.

  3. Paul Says:

    @Russell: noted.

    @BlueBaron: I am not yet willing to surrender the word “chemical”.

  4. Paul Says:

    I want to reiterate that the story here is fabricated. I am sure that various pesticides have saved many farms, but this post is meant to be an exercise in ad design, not in historical research and obtaining marketing rights. I knew I needed to get a good picture, so finding one I could use by a CC license also drove the narrative, a bit. If I had the luxury of ACS money, I could spend time researching a real story (that I’m sure would be similar) and hire a photographer to take a compelling image.

    The point of this post is what is possible (and relatively simple) to accomplish—especially by a schmuck with no experience in marketing and relatively poor Photoshop skills.

  5. Handles Says:

    I like it. The slogan at the bottom reminds me of “there’s an app for that”, and apps are cool, right?

    I can already hear the criticism from the intended audience though, who will respond with “but why would the farmer use a chemical, when he could use something natural and safe instead?”. THis is basically BlueBarons point above.

    Maybe we need to go right back to basics, with a “we are all made of stars” approach.

  6. @KarlDCollins Says:

    Great idea Paul. I wouldn’t worry about the criticism, or negative connotations of chemicals. These things have only come about relatively recently – science and chemicals were regarded with great esteem through the industrial revolution, development of medicine, putting man on the moon – and is only due to poor understanding and media hype (as you know of course). Peoples negative responses to chemicals have become instinctive due to protracted media campaigns, and this instinct can be changed – probably very slowly – but will require a significant effort on “our” part. This is a great idea and hopefully just a first step……

  7. Matt Says:

    I love it, Paul. This has given me an idea of my own. If the ACS is going to run this, I think that chemical toxicity and the realities of chemistry and chemists need to be at the fore. I’ll try to get something together soon.

  8. Clara Says:

    Looks good and would be great once design aspects are smoothed out.

    I’m thinking, maybe angle for a broader approach? The idea of “chemistry” itself is powerful and has shaped a lot of human history (polymers, Haber-Bosch) – iconic chemical discoveries in history that have impacted us in seemingly ordinary ways we may not have ever imagined – it’s surprising but gives people a sense of the history and people that have gone into creating the advanced technological world around us.

  9. The Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Good idea, although the ads would have to be featured in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal to reach a broad audience. And we should be prepared to be instantly accused of being paid shills for the “chemical” companies (I can almost imagine Nick Kristof or someone else saying “The chemical companies have joined the ACS in an unholy alliance and have started a concerted campaign to put a positive spin on their products”). Sooner or later the truth should get out though.

  10. qvxb Says:

    Excellent idea, Paul! I agree with The Curious Wave Function that the ads would have to appear in the popular press to really be effective. I would suggest TV ads, too. Clara’s thought of a broader historical approach also has merit. Chemists could be featured in them. The two types of ads should alternate weekly.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Paul,

    I love the idea and the story. Its simple, poignant, and makes me want mexican food. How about a slogan like:

    “Chemistry, For Your LIfe”

    or

    “Chemistry, You Cant Live without It”

    or for the ad campaign, you could call them chapters in the book:
    “Chemicals You Cant Live without”

    or

    “Chemicals, More than Viagra and Meth”

  12. bearing Says:

    I prefer “A chemical saved his farm” to “A chemist saved his farm.”

    Because it’s not “a” chemist, nor is it only chemists. Every agricultural chemical that makes it to mark it is the product of the labors of many individuals, not just “a chemist.” Chemists, yes, but also engineers, biologists, technicians of all sorts, pipefitters and the like, and probably also (let’s be fair) some marketers, lawyers, analysts, and maybe even an entrepreneur or two.

    The people don’t need defending. Their industry does.

  13. LiqC Says:

    I agree with using ‘chemical’. It is these little guys that need our protection from all the negativity, chemists will live, ’cause they are organic.

    “Chemical saved X” also can be a universal thing. His crop, her child, their brains, jobs, erections, etc.
    Keep at it!

  14. Klaas Wynne Says:

    Hi just saw your poster and thought I could do something like that. My “We love chemicals” poster is at http://www.chem.gla.ac.uk/staff/wynne/i/2012/we-love-chemicals-620.jpg or http://www.chem.gla.ac.uk/staff/wynne/i/2012/we%20love%20chemicals.pdf.

  15. Brad Says:

    Love the enthusiasm and the effort. This whole chemophobia thing is getting really frustrating, and I think a large part of it has to do with the recent “organic” movement. In no way am I saying organic farming/food is bad, but I do think it leads people to think negatively about chemicals in a more general sense and uses chemophobia as a marketing tool.

    Maybe, like politicians, we should go with a smear campaign instead.
    “Don’t find a mouse in your salad… use chemicals!”

  16. Sean Says:

    Hi Paul,

    I agree that something is better than nothing, but how do you know this ad or ads in general would be a good idea?

    Do you have a way to measure the result? This can be quite difficult with magazine ads. I suspect creating a website about the topic maybe more beneficial.

    Great idea!

  17. sam Says:

    Klass, I love the apple poster! Do you have more?

    Paul, I like the effort, but I doubt it will win over any hippies.

  18. sam Says:

    sorry, Klaas, for misspelling your name. :)

  19. Klaas Wynne Says:

    Misspelling is OK. Ta! No, I just whipped one up for entertainment. It was either that or marking PhD progress reports…

  20. Eric Olmon Says:

    I love the idea. I feel that the slogan, “There’s a chemical for just about everything” is ambiguous and still does not dispel negative feelings toward chemicals. There are chemical pesticides, but there are also chemical weapons. I propose something that draws a connection between the comforts of modern life/technology (which most people couldn’t do without) and chemistry (this is a very easy connection to make). This forces a cognitive dissonance that hopefully would be resolved through generating a positive feeling toward chemistry/chemicals. Something like “Chemistry makes modern life possible” or “Chemistry makes life possible”.

    I also think a campaign toward dispelling the negative connotations about chemistry/chemicals may be more effective if it focused, again, on things everyday people already use and can’t do without. For example, antibiotics, painkillers or vitamins, batteries and solid state technologies, Gorilla Glass…remind people that, hey, this is chemistry working for you, and things like medicines, solid state memory, plastics and glass are chemicals too.

  21. Everyday Scientist » chemicals ad campaign Says:

    […] has a good first draft of a chemicals ad campaign. But I was more inspired by Klaas Wynne’s “We love … […]

  22. sam Says:

    here’s my entry: http://blog.everydayscientist.com/?p=2814

  23. David Says:

    “Everything is a chemical”

  24. Paul Says:

    @Klaas: Great poster! Elegant simplicity in terms of the design, and it is obvious how the theme could be extended to other products. You should put your poster in some online store; I bet people would buy it.

    I think our designs approach the chemophobia problem from opposite vectors. Yours is the chemicals-are-everywhere-and-usually-harmless tack, whereas mine is that individual chemicals often have profoundly useful purposes. I think both could work with the public.

  25. eugene Says:

    I hate it. I think it’s terrible that you focused on a pesticide and it’s a testament to how Monsanto and co. have managed to brainwash us chemists over the years to believe that their crap helps save crops.

    Ideally, you make all pesticides illegal unless there is no viable pheromone disrusptor or trap for that particular insect that does not harm any other insects. Once a pheromone blend for a species becomes available and is tested, using pesticide on a crop to get rid it of that insect should be banned immediately by a law that is in place. From then on only a pheromone should be accepted for spraying.

    It should be illegal for large pesticide manufacturers to buy out smaller pheromone outfits and patents for pheromone blends should be rigorously enforced (since often once you have the mixture they are quite easy to make and are effective in very small amounts) so that the company who came up with the pheromone blend gets to make its investment back.

    Right now we’ve got the absurd situation of spraying tons of pesticides on crops, where the company who sells the pesticide makes lots of money due to turn-around in sheer volume of the poison, whereas only kilos of a pheromone blend would be needed for the entire country to disrupt mating of a particular insect of interest without harming any other species (not much money to be made on a volume basis there). It’s a travesty that industry invests a lot more money in pesticide research as opposed to pheromones. I believe they need legisleture to help them see the light and we would all be better off. Starting from non-pest insects to humans who have to ingest less ‘non-toxic’ pesticide traces.

  26. sam Says:

    see, i told you it wouldn’t win over the hippies.

  27. Chemjobber Says:

    Assuming that this is eugene the regular commenter, I think it’s a valuable perspective to have.

    (I’m not especially convinced, though; if pheromones were cheaper/better, farmers would use them, right? I sense that eugene is arguing that Big Ag Chemical (Dow Agro, Syngenta, whatever) is restricting access to them, but I’m relatively skeptical. Is there a more complete story elsewhere?)

  28. wolfie Says:

    You forget that you are a loser, Paul. Noone will remember you in 20 years. Instead, Sames will still be remebered as a Professor of Columbia University. You made it not.

  29. sam Says:

    i was just kidding, eugene.

  30. Karel Capek Says:

    You could run the ad on the C&E News website, and force people to stare at if for hours while waiting for their articles to load.

  31. bad wolf Says:

    @chemjobber–as you can see, he doesn’t need proof; he’ll make everyone do what he wants.

  32. Paul Says:

    @Everyone: Thanks for the comments.

    @Eric: I really like “Chemistry makes modern life possible”, and one or more posters could discuss biochemistry/biology and put a red X over the word “modern”. I agree that a very strong way to sell people on liking chemistry is to frame it against the loss of a modern necessity.

    @eugene: I tried some simple google searches to find such a story but couldn’t. Do you have a specific example of a company that bought the rights to some mating disruption technology just so they could shelve it to sell a pesticide?

  33. Paul Says:

    If you want to make a poster in the same format, here’s a PowerPoint (.pptx) file you might find handy.

  34. Paul Says:

  35. Dave L Says:

    Hey Paul, interesting to see this discussion on why chemistry gets a bit of a bad rap in the popular consciousness. I think it’s definitely laudable to try and bring chemistry out from ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak; we often refer to our profession as the “central science,” but more often than not that tends to mean chemistry plays a bit of a silent role in the average person’s life. And when it is more ‘front-and-center,’ it’s usually in a negative light: when was the last time you saw a popular news story on something chemistry-related that was positive? And how many of those stories were told without referring to chemistry at all (for example, a story about a revolutionary new material)? Physics has the “wow” factor (although how anyone other than particle physicists can get ecstatic about the hunt for the Higgs boson is beyond me), and biology the direct relevance to life, but as many have pointed out here, chemistry underpins pretty much everything. After all, it is the science of “stuff,” and people like stuff! Possibly part of the problem is that chemistry’s impact and influence is so broad and in most cases relatively mundane (try to get excited about polyethylene, then try to live without it for a week). Maybe what the field needs in addition to a branding-makeover is to aggressively publicize new breakthrough technologies (Nocera’s leaf comes to mind, although again the relation to chemistry is probably minimized in popular articles on the subject). This would be especially relevant for those that relate to things like green energy and sustainability. Maybe instead of focusing on the mundane (levitra and plastics), we should strive to tie chemistry to big, sweeping, revolutionary, and forward-looking things like total carbon neutrality. However, Kelly’s testimonial might “engage” more people!

  36. MRW Says:

    From … is chemicals

  37. MRW Says:

    Screwed up the text, but my shot is in the link I posted

  38. eugene Says:

    Don’t worry sam, my sense of humor is not yet shot… I think.

    Chemjobber, I’m the regular commenter and it’s very hard to get farmers to adopt this technology. They are not willing to change something that works for a new technology, even though the old technology is bad. It’s very frustrating… I know all about it actually. I hope it’s been changing lately, but with pesticide spraying being business as usual as far as I can tell from just reading news sometimes, I doubt it.

    Paul, I’ll try to find an example for you, but I’m not sure I can since it’s been a long time that I’ve left the field. Hell, maybe it’s not even true and I just said it in the heat of the moment! I’ll need to call the old boss. I know a big company bought some of his patents and I’m not sure they went anywhere. This company also sells pesticides. But definitely, price cuts and lobbying of crop/wheat bords does happen when we try to compete. There was one time where we were wildly succesful. Stopping all pesticide use in a huge Middle Eastern country on this one crop and substituting it all by a few kilos of our stuff. Complete mating disruption and population collapse after one generation. But these are the kinds of customers who are known to reverse-engineer your blends and might collapse into a civil war or have trade sanctions declared on them. You know… not the ideal. North America has been frustrating. Plus, there is a lack of proper, good research into pheromones of the kind that big chemical company money can provide. Often the blends sold for an insect lack effect because they are missing a minute component that people didn’t bother isolating because they were doing a hack job and never noticed it. You need proper biologists who know what they are doing to isolate these things and sometimes it takes a few thousand dead insects to extract a few nanograms of a very active component. Plus eventually in 30 years the insect is going to evolve to have 5% more of this minor stereoisomer of the main component to have the proper blend (for example).

    It was also frustrating to go up against a government scientist who had an inferior product but was supported by his government while we were outsiders. Especially when someone embellishes their results and says their traps capture way more insects than they do. Grrr…. then when a commercial run doesn’t work, they go back to the pesticide without giving us a chance.

  39. eugene Says:

    Okay, just sent a letter to the old boss. We will see if I made a fool of myself or not when he/she answers.

  40. James Says:

    Great idea. If you really want to go for the jugular, however, you have to say, “a chemical saved my child”.

  41. Chemjobber Says:

    Thanks, eugene, for the explanation — it’s very edifying.

  42. BlueBaron Says:

    A simple slogan of “I am chemistry” might suffice. It would also be technically accurate.

  43. UCP Wynne group » We love chemistry poster Says:

    […] response to a post by Chembark First Draft of a Pro-Chemistry Ad Campaign, I made a poster myself. Others did so too, see here. It took about 15 minutes so it’s a bit […]

  44. eugene Says:

    The old boss said that she doesn’t know of any specific cases :( She also said to be careful since not all insects are sensitive enough to pheromones and for some they just won’t work. Usually moths are fine in my experience. A lot of the pests are moths and they have big and bushy antennas that are a sign that there is some really powerful sex pheromone you can use.

  45. LabMonkey Says:

    Here’s another one for the collection :-)
    http://labmonkey4hire.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/chemical-saved-my-bacon.html

  46. Paul Says:

    @LabMonkey: Excellent.


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