Dow and DuPont will keep their historic names after the merger in the form of DowDuPont, but it appears the word “chemical” (as in Dow Chemical Co.) may be going away.
In fact, it looks like DowDupont's combined chemical business will be renamed “Material Science,” an all-too-familiar word with growing popularity in our industry for good reasons. I kind of like it too, because it broadens the definition of what we do, sounds sophisticated and reminds the public that we are practicing science — a respectable cause.
On the other hand, even though it may not be a fond topic, we all know that chemicals and chemistry have been increasingly assigned negative connotations by the general public.
In fact, so much so that China's national TV network last month aired a commercial with a provocative “We Hate Chemistry” theme and punchline.
The 15-second commercial, for Guangzhou-based “natural cosmetics” brand Franic, has a popular singer repeatedly narrate and sing the phrase “We Hate Chemistry” with sensational visual and sound effects.
It's understandable that the public, especially those living in highly polluted places like China, can easily slip into the anti-chemistry club and blame chemicals for the deteriorating environment and public health threats.
The commercial stirred up some heated debates in China, led by a retired chemistry professor who publicly urged the TV network to cease spreading such an “anti-science” message. The ad has since been “temporarily” suspended pending revision, according to Chinese reports.
But that didn't, and won't, win the real battle. The anti-chemistry attitude will take a village — in our case, starting from everyone in the industry — to change.
The oh-so-natural brand Franic was taking advantage of the public's lack of knowledge of chemistry, which we all live and breathe in. Whatever “natural” ingredients in Franic's products, they still boil down to chemistry. Even the purest water is a chemical itself — two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
What we should do is not to shy away from the word chemistry or chemical. Instead, help the public — whose perception of chemistry is influenced by one-sidedly negative media reports of chemical pollutions, safety risks, or TV shows like “Breaking Bad” — to understand what chemistry really is about and what it has done for the human race.
As Claudia H. Deutsh rightly pointed out in her well-written New York Times article “A Campaign for BASF,” we need chemical companies to embrace their identities and bring justice to the word itself.
This is a thought-provoking story about BASF's branding strategy that proudly touts itself as “The Chemical Company” — even adding it to its corporate name.
In North America, BASF has managed to use a fraction of what big chemical companies used to spend on advertising and yet successfully making its slogan “We don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better,” into one of the most recognized corporate slogans. But BASF recognizes that the slogan, as impactful as it is, doesn't carry the tangible details that people can easily grasp and relate to. So now it's seeking to leverage the new campaign to create real understanding of what the company does.
Who's got an even less likable reputation than chemicals? No doubt plastics. Not only does it share all the negative connotations of chemicals, it also has been associated with undesirable qualities like cheap, disposable, low-quality, ocean pollution, etc. The list goes on and on.
I've seen how companies go the extra mile to carefully and creatively craft their corporate names, descriptions and other branding content. Some plastics companies opt for such words as polymer, macromolecule, new materials, high-tech materials, material science/technology, environmental-friendly materials, engineering materials and advanced materials.
I understand. At the end of day, it comes to the decision whether it's a worthy fight.
Company leaders carry on their shoulders the interest of shareholders, employees, customers, community and the broader public and society. One small decision can lead to broad, deep impact.
To fight, or not to fight.