Science, perhaps more than at any time in the last century, has become a driving force in our culture and our conversation. Whether it is looking forward at the potential for stem cells, climate change or space exploration or back at the issue of evolution, science is making front-page headlines in the newspapers and cover after cover in newsweekly magazines.
It is shaping politics, fueling economies, influencing the arts, spurring current events and redefining how we see ourselves, our planet and our place in the universe. The sciences and the humanities-once-distinct cultures-have collided to form a vibrant crux of ideas, iconoclasts and brands catalyzing a fast-emerging global science culture.
Want evidence that science is marketable in itself, or that science is influencing culture? Look no further than the host of best-selling books like "The Elegant Universe," "Collapse" and "The Republican War on Science"; acclaimed films like "A Beautiful Mind," "Primer" and "Pi"; popular plays like "Proof" and "Copenhagen" or hit TV shows like "CSI" and "Numb3rs."
This cultural paradigm presents a sizable and immediate opportunity for marketers, which is why science magazine Seed and ad agency JWT set out to better understand the rebirth of interest in science and the people driving it. This week the two organizations will release the first part of a joint study titled "The Scientific Renaissance," which aims to assess attitudes toward science in the U.S. and characterize the early-adopters of this cultural shift.
Findings: Three out of four Americans are interested in science, and four out of five see science as an increasingly important part of culture. Interest in science has grown in the last five years leading the population to spend more time reading about science or watching science programming than ever before. And 68% say that science is "an important part of their life."
This burgeoning interest in science is driven primarily by an interest in the future and intellectual curiosity. Environmental concerns, stem cells and space exploration are the science issues of most interest, and 77% of the population wishes they understood more in relation to science.
At a time when science and religion appear to be at a standoff in this country, it was interesting the survey also showed that Americans feel politics are influenced more by religion than by science, yet trust scientists more than religious leaders (and more than politicians, celebrities or CEOs).
The research also revealed an emerging segment of the population at the leading edge of the scientific renaissance. They are science-savvy citizens with a heightened interest in science and issues relating to science. They are catalyzing the scientific renaissance with their voice, their vote and their unique buying habits. Seed and JWT dubbed these early adopters "Leonardos." There are more than 15 million Leonardos living in urban and suburban centers across America. They are young, (median age of 32), educated and have a buying power of over $40 billion.
Leonardos are interested in science primarily because it sates their intellectual curiosity and because they find it entertaining. They talk about science with friends and in social circles and spend almost twice as much time with science each week than the average American-they are reading the books, buying the magazines, watching the films. They feel passionately that science is an important part of their life and that science is an important part of culture. For example, they believe there is not enough emphasis on science in U.S. education. They have more faith in science but are not more or less religious or spiritual than the average American.
Leonardos are usually the first to try new things among their friends. They are actively engaged in the nation's conversation, addressing public meetings, writing articles and blogs, taking an active part in local civic issues, and participating in environmental causes.
Science informs what they buy and they are more likely to buy from companies that invest in science. They also want to have input into how companies make and package the products they use, and the ingredients and materials in those products.
The scientific renaissance presents a powerful opportunity for forward-thinking, research-driven companies to tell their science stories, to connect with consumers by telling the science-based stories behind their products or brands. Some companies have told their stories already-think of those fabulous pieces you've read on the work Gillette puts into research and developing its razors-but others haven't yet realized the potential of science in their media relations.
Many pioneering brands have, however, been experimenting with those assets in their advertising. They leverage it because it is authoritative and future-oriented (think IBM's "Help Desk: Gene"), or socially responsible (BP's "It's a Start"; GE's "Ecomagination"; L'Oreal's "For Women in Science"; Ford's "Escape Hybrid"). They use it to make themselves culturally relevant (Olympus' "Your Vision, Our Future").
Others have tapped science for its vocabulary-again pointing to the authenticity and future-leaning edge it gives brands. Think: Apple's new iPod "Nano"; Lexus' "H" for hybrid; Smirnoff's "Formula 21." Audi is another that's borrowed heavily from the language of science, it's "Vorsprung durch Technik" and "Anatomy of Genius" have lent a sophisticated hipness to their brands that resonates with Leonardos. The culture of science itself lends a spirit that is both novel and inspiring (Honda's "Science Fair"; TIAA-CREF's "For the Greater Good").
As time goes on more brands will learn to tap into this cultural shift. The power of science to elevate and differentiate brands will shape 21st century marketing-just as it will shape the rest of the business, political and cultural worlds. Fail to recognize this movement at your peril.
Adam Bly ... Adam Bly is the CEO of Seed Media Group, and founder of Seed magazine. A complete version of the study is available at seedmediagroup.com/renaissance.