The tagline, which debuted as "Better things for better living through chemistry" in 1935, had served the company through the final years of the Great Depression, World War II, the turbulent '60s and the emergence of the global marketplace.
In its place, DuPont unveiled a new global corporate positioning statement: "The miracles of science."
Developed by McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, this slogan launched April 28 in a 12-page insert in The Wall Street Journal for about $1.5 million. Smaller inserts followed in The Asian Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. DuPont scientists, the campaign declares, developed breakthrough products such as Mylar, which helped put a man on the moon, and Teflon, which helped make the computer chip possible.
While the new tagline received a warm reception, the move itself still raises two basic marketing questions: How did DuPont -- a successful company with net income of $4.7 billion on $24.8 billion in revenue in 1998 -- decide to jettison a tagline with 64 years of equity? And how did it choose a worthy replacement?
One reason Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont offered for the change is that the public confused "Better things for better living" with General Electric Co.'s "We bring good things to life." More important, the impetus for DuPont's marketing change comes straight from the company's chairman-CEO, Charles Holliday Jr.
Since taking over as CEO in February 1998, he has overseen a restructuring of the company. In the past 12 months, DuPont has made a decision to exit the petroleum business by spinning off its Conoco subsidiary; has bought out Merck & Co.'s share in a pharmaceutical joint venture; and has acquired Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a seed company.
"Clearly, we don't want to be seen as a chemical company," explained Kathleen Forte, VP-global corporate affairs. "It's really limiting, and it doesn't describe who we are."
The change at DuPont is what motivated the campaign, the company says. DuPont's biological sciences have become just as important as its material sciences. To explain how the chemical and biological sides of DuPont's business could work together, Mr. Holliday told his staff that a new corporate marketing direction was required.
"Our CEO came to Corporate Communications and asked for our point of view and how we could help him better articulate the changes that he was bringing to DuPont," said Carol Gee, corporate brand manager.
This would not be the first time DuPont had revamped itself. Founded in 1802 as E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., it initially manufactured gunpowder. In the 1900s, DuPont reinvented itself as a developer of synthetic materials, such as nylon, Tyvek and Corian, products that it still manufactures. Except in Brazil, DuPont no longer produces another product it pioneered, chlorofluorocarbons, which were found to damage the earth's ozone layer.
After a slight detour into the energy business -- when DuPont acquired Conoco in 1981 and dropped "through chemistry" from it tagline -- the company stands poised to enter its third century with what Mr. Holliday characterizes as a recommitment to science.
Last fall, he told a group of ad agencies invited to pitch DuPont's global corporate account -- a group that included J. Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam and Saatchi & Saatchi -- about the company's need to reinvent itself one more time. McCann-Erickson was actually an afterthought in this process. The agency was asked to participate only when another agency exited the pitch.
Despite some hesitation on the part of his staff, Mr. Holliday also made it clear that DuPont's venerable tagline was not off limits. "I think we all had some reservations," Ms. Forte said.
Down to a science
Nat Puccio, McCann's exec VP-director of strategic planning, had no reservations about changing DuPont's tagline. "How many taglines can last for seven decades? It was time to move on to something new," he said.
Mr. Puccio said the new tagline had to summarize -- ideally in four words or fewer -- DuPont's new direction and how its chemical
and biological disciplines would work together to meet life's needs. "The challenge was to make that mouthful into a coherent identity for where DuPont was going," he said.
Looking for what he calls "insights," Mr. Puccio and his team delved into DuPont's research. They also did some of their own, videotaping DuPont employees talking about their company. "They were the only agency that asked to come to Wilmington just to interview employees," Ms. Gee said.
From these interviews, Mr. Puccio found that employees -- a critical audience for this campaign -- viewed DuPont as a science company, one that unlocked the secrets of nature and applied this knowledge to make people's lives better.
"If you think of DuPont as a science company, suddenly the material sciences and life sciences really become two flavors, if you will, of the larger mission," Mr. Puccio said.
In late December, McCann began building a proposed ad campaign alluding to Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The campaign, which featured the line, "We didn't get where we wanted to go by taking baby steps," would present the scientists at DuPont's labs as people making dramatic leaps forward.
Finding a tagline to sum up this idea, however, proved elusive. McCann had several serviceable taglines in mind as the deadline approached. A few days before the pitch, Jonathan Cranin, associate creative director, hit upon the four-word line: "The miracles of science."
Mr. Puccio knew this was the tagline. "It was like, `Boy, why didn't anyone think of this before?' " he said. But the question was: Would DuPont feel the same way?
The miracles of marketing
At 7 a.m. on Jan. 6, a group of top DuPont executives, including Mr. Holliday, Ms. Gee and Ms. Forte, gathered in Wilmington for a marathon day of agency presentations. A non-voting panel of 10 DuPont employees was also on hand to observe.
McCann presented first. The centerpiece of McCann's presentation was a video that introduced "The miracles of science." "One of the [non-voting] DuPont executives told us that he would love to have a copy of the video to show his son who is in elementary school so he would know what business his father was in," Mr. Puccio said.
Indeed, the video put DuPont's best face forward, featuring the company's Nomex on the back of a firefighter battling a blaze, and Tyvek helping to keep an operating room sterile. "My gut reaction was they nailed it," Ms. Forte said.
But DuPont didn't want to make an emotional decision. Within two weeks, McCann's creative, along with that of the other three agencies, was shown to focus groups of employees and customers on four continents. Opinion Research Corp., Princeton, N.J., conducted the research.
"Usually when you do this, there is not a clear-cut winner," said Jeff Brown, Opinion Research senior VP. "But in this case, the McCann work really stood out head and shoulders above the other campaigns around the world. It was a no-brainer."
The responses in Opinion Research's report tell the story:
Some managers feared that the use of the word "miracles" might seem hokey and perhaps unbelievable. But the research indicated that DuPont employees, as a whole, bought into the concept.
"There are no greater skeptics than a DuPont bunch of scientists and engineers," Ms. Gee said. "Hype is not something they usually buy. They don't feel this is hype."
Late in January, DuPont told McCann it had won the business. The insert premiered three months later. The immediate reaction was positive: DuPont's share price closed at $73.50 on April 28 after closing the previous day at $69.13.
Now the test is whether "The miracles of science" can last until 2063.