Science World uses the hard facts

Why "short, portable ideas" for the science centre are still the best way to get a rise out of Vancouverites 12 years later.

As it’s been doing for the better part of the last 12 years, Vancouver-based Science World’s latest campaign again relies on simple-yet-surprising science facts to arouse viewers’ interest.

Rethink’s latest video for the science centre shows a grieving man at a funeral repeatedly closing a casket that won’t stay shut in between receiving condolences from guests, all due to a stimulating fact most people don’t know about dead bodies.

This year’s campaign also features a radio ad that plays with left/right balance to highlight how some sounds are more pleasing in one ear than the other, as well as another round of transit shelter ads and some public stunts that will be rolling out in the near future.

Rethink has been working with Science World for 12 years, basing each piece of creative around a different, interesting, little-known science fact under the “Now You Know” (previously “We Can Explain”) tagline. Previous videos have illustrated things like how optimistic people feel less pain and how bellybutton lint is a great way to start a fire, with OOH executions that showed everything from how cat urine glows in to dark to how the typical person eats 430 bugs every year.

Rob Tarry, creative director at Rethink, says the guiding principle in Rethink’s work for Science has been not to employ a single “big idea” across all campaigns and instead look for “small, portable” ideas.

“We’re not working under the burden of some big idea you have to pay off, and do so on every platform,” he says. “If each individual campaign is different, it gives you freedom to make each one memorable and funny and as interesting as possible without having to constantly worry if it ties back.”

That hasn’t always been the case, however. Rethink’s first campaign for the client was based around one of those “big ideas”: telling parents not to “let your kids grow up to be as dumb as you.”

“I still think that’s a big, funny idea that could work across TV and print and outdoor,” Tarry says. “But it totally bombed. It did not go over well at all and that caused us to sit back and think about what we were doing, because we weren’t helping them by trying to impose a big idea on them. They were already an interesting museum that had a clear message, which is to take science and make it cool.”

When Rethink finally “cracked” the idea, it was to just do what the centre was already doing, he says.

Science’s World’s campaigns since then have simply been taking its approach inside the centre – taking science and making it cooler and more interesting – and expressing it publicly in way that’ll get the attention of a wider audience.

“It’s made it fun and easy to keep cranking out interesting work over the years, and for other teams to come in and work on it,” Tarry says. “Our checklist for the facts we use is that they have to be true, it has to be short and sweet, and they have to make people want to know more. Well that’s also what makes a really great creative brief, so every individual execution we’ve done is like its own little campaign from a perfect brief that can stand on its own.”

Though the agency isn’t employing a big, tactical idea, there is still an element of strategic insight to its work, which is to target parents, as well as older kids and teens who may come to evening events held there.

“The new ads look the same as the ads when we started, and that’s because the strategy has always been instead of using cutesy colours another museum for kids might use, making it parent-focused because they’re the ones making decisions about family activities,” Tarry says. “Because they already were a bit quirky and fun in how they deliver science to kids, they had a built-in personality, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for them to be a little crazy in ads.”