Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times

The Top Six Science Marketing Hits of 2012

(This article was originally published in Nature.)


I imagine you’re cuddled up with your loved ones, recounting your favorite moments of the year. To amplify your joy, let me share with you this list of my six top science marketing successes of 2012, compiled with help from thTiger Litter Boxe Marketing for Scientists Facebook group.

It was a good year for “geeks” with celebrities like pop singer Bjork’s sticking up for science, the continued success of television’s Big Bang Theory, and rappers, hipsters and pop stars around the world sporting dark plastic glasses. But these events below combined marketing techniques with the substance of science, educating us even as they drew us in. Click here to compare them with last year’s top five list.

#6 The Vancouver Science Museum’s Gross-Out Ad Campaign

A tiger litter box labeled “Rajah” filled with large pieces of faux cat scat sits in the middle of a busy sidewalk. The sign says “Tigers Will Use a Litter Box” and “SCIENCE WORLD: We can explain.” This installation, and several other attention-grabbing, conversation-starting displays around the Vancouver metro area helped lure visitors to the museum this year, and impressed me with its marketing magic a la business guru Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.

#5 The Flame Challenge

This contest, held by the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University with help from actor Alan Alda, dared scientists and educators to submit videos explaining what a flame is—a subtle concept. What set this contest apart from other science communication contests is that the judges were 11-year old students: some 6000 of them at 130 elementary schools.  The results taught us something deep, I think, about how children view scientists.

Science Debate Button#4 Science Debate 2012

This organization, launched by writer Shawn Otto, issued a call for “presidential and congressional debates on science and technology” this year supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and over 150 universities. It compiled a series of fourteen questions on topics like climate change, vaccination, and science education and submitted them to the Obama and Romney campaigns. Once again, the campaigns dodged the invitation to debate in person. But they submitted answers to the questions, just as Obama and McCain did in 2008.  Science Debate 2012 showed that politicians had better care about science—and that scientists are not shy about politics.

#3 The “I I Fucking Love ScienceFucking Love Science” Facebook group

It can be tricky to measure the impact of marketing on social media, but with over 2.2 million likes, this Facebook group with its the iconoclastic name has certainly moved the needle. Surf on over for a mix of techie humor, scientist hero worship, and gee whiz science news, all served with a heap of snarky attitude. It’s science, just how the web generation likes it, and a tour de force of relationship building via social networks. (Suggested by Laurel Norris).

#2 The Mysterious Higgs Boson

It’s really hard to explain what the heck this thing is, as evidenced by this video of Brooklyn NY hipsters’ trying to describe it. Even science writers struggled to pin down Leon Lederman’s “God Particle”. Does it cause us to have mass? Sort of. Nonetheless, this landmark discovery, buoyed by the sheer enthusiasm of the world’s particle physicists, will be remembered in pop culture from Dilbert to the Big Bang Theory to TIME magazine’s “Particle of the Year”. That’s a sales achievement, not just a scientific one.  (Suggested by Steve Kilston.)

#1 The NASA Mohawk Guy

Bobak FerdowsiMission controller Bobak Ferdowsi became an instant celebrity this year when NASA’s Curiosity probe landed on Mars and the television cameras landed on Ferdowsi’s remarkable hairdo, streaked with red dye. Bobak’s hairdo helped rebrand science and NASA, contrasting starkly with the stodgy look of engineers seen in classic NASA footage. Curiosity’s success lifted our spirits during a year of economic hardship, and Bobak’s sense of style filled the internet with chatter about how science is becoming cool once again. (Suggested by everybody.)

Wishing you a 2013 full of big discoveries—and people who care about them!





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