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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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October 11, 2011

Brow-Furrowing Chemical Ads

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Posted by Derek

Now, I know that I'm not the first to notice this. And in the grand scheme of things, it's pretty trivial. But isn't it true, and hasn't it been true for many years, that the print advertisements of chemical companies are often strange and useless?
Here's an example from a recent issue of Chemical and Engineering News, one that was open on my desk to this very spot. Now, I don't know what a quarter-page goes for these days - probably not as much as the folks at C&E News would like for it to - but this was wasted money for sure. Let's count the ways. For one thing, the purple molecule graphic might be a neat-looking thing in a cosmetics ad, but not when placed in a magazine whose subscriber base is about 98% people with a chemistry degree. The slogan ("Our people make the difference") is such an ancient chunk of corporate goodthink that it can't even support a good covering of mold any more. And are we to infer that the model, a vaguely futuristic Eurofied Joni Mitchell, is one of those people? Not hardly. And what's with the cyber-gizmo dog collar thing she's wearing? One of those invisible-fence zappers, scaled up to human size?

The ad enjoins us to visit them at a conference booth in Geneva, which is at least a place where you're sure to find out what on earth Saltigo does. To be fair, the opposite page in the C&E News issue has another Saltigo ad, which has a couple of chemists in an unexciting but straightforward pitch that lets you know that they're a custom synthesis/process company that you can hire to try to save you money during production. (Interestingly, at least for me, I just now noticed that the first of the two, Andreas Stolle, is an old colleague of mine from my days at the Wonder Drug Factory in Connecticut - hello, Andreas! And tell your ad agency to make sure to spell "throughout" properly next time.)

No, I'm sure that Saltigo's a perfectly good outfit. But their ads aren't doing much to get that across. Nor are they the only company in that position - a glance through any issue of any magazine in the field will yield a rich harvest of ads that are drably functional at best, and baffling at worst. I wouldn't want the job of producing the things, I have to admit - but doesn't someone want to do it better than it's being done?

Comments (45) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Chemical News


1. pete on October 11, 2011 12:26 PM writes...

-- she happens to be the CEO

Oh and the dog collar? It allows her to say, "Our people make the difference", in 276 languages.

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2. PharmaHeretic on October 11, 2011 12:52 PM writes...

No woman chemist looks that good. Seriously, not only is chem a male-dominated field, but the few women in it are rather homely.

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3. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on October 11, 2011 1:02 PM writes...

But it caught your attention, didn't it? And that's what the ad is intended to do.

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4. newnickname on October 11, 2011 1:03 PM writes...

I can't make out the purple molecule in the small picture in my browser. Is it anything real?

The 41-cent 2008 US Postage Stamp honoring Gerty Cori had a hexose that was slightly bent out of shape. Not quite as bad as the 1918 24-cent Inverted Jenny, except maybe to a chemist.

Lots of other bad chemistry in ads, images, etc..

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5. johnnyboy on October 11, 2011 1:16 PM writes...

As someone who's very much exposed to the vagaries of the advertising business (by virtue of being married to an advertising exec), I can tell you that advertising is like any field (including chemistry, I presume): there's some who do good work, and some who do terrible, cringe-worthy stuff. And like any business, to get a good product, you have to pay for it. I'm not sure how much chemistry outfits devote to their advertising budget, but I suspect it'll rarely be somewhere in the territory that yields effective, non-laughable advertising.

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6. Anon on October 11, 2011 1:29 PM writes...

Why have I never seen a chemical/biological advertisement with an Asian? They are the majority for many fields.

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7. Ed on October 11, 2011 1:41 PM writes...

Maybe she is anticipating a CSI tie in with Lady Heather's dominion?

And does anyone else think here eyes are just too far apart?

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8. Hap on October 11, 2011 1:42 PM writes...

"Our people make the difference." I'm sure - when you fire them, your stock gets a little bump, your execs get a bonus, and the rest of the staff gets to work a little (or a lot) harder.

One of the local hospital groups talks about "the power of We" - they must not have meant the (almost) entire nursing contingent at my doctors' office who got laid off for cheaper assistants (probably in part because of the insurance company who represents my employer).

I just have to wonder when the last time was that a slogan intended to tell me how valuable someone's employees are was anything other than a bitter joke.

David - we looked, but I don't know if looking is going to matter to anyone who has to make a sourcing decision. (I can't see "Look, they have an attractive model. Let's not look at other vendors but just buy from them - maybe she'll visit." going over well in Purchasing.)

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9. DannoH on October 11, 2011 1:42 PM writes...

#3 - Exactly. Consider the target demographic identified by #2, and an effective ad it is. Personally I would have skipped the ICs, but evidently they felt the need to appeal to the point and click monkey who may feel obligated to identify the that a 555 I see?

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10. Ed on October 11, 2011 1:44 PM writes...

Maybe she is anticipating a CSI tie in with Lady Heather's dominion?

And does anyone else think her eyes are just too far apart?

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11. leftscienceawhileago on October 11, 2011 1:45 PM writes...

Can we get a JACS graphical abstracts hall of fame?

I think I remember a space shuttle showing up in one of them...

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12. Cellbio on October 11, 2011 2:06 PM writes...

I like the tag line- "Customized Competence". From experts to babbling idiots, we've got the level of competence that fits your budget!

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13. Anonymous on October 11, 2011 2:14 PM writes...

"to make sure to spell "throughout" properly": I'm assuming that the US spelling would be something colourful, such as 'thruout'?

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14. BCP on October 11, 2011 2:24 PM writes...

@3 precisely.

@6 that has always troubled me. As someone who has done plenty of business with Chinese CRO's, I always feel a little "used" when I see marketing materials full of caucasian faces.

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15. Brooks on October 11, 2011 2:43 PM writes...

David @3's comment is only useful if one assumes that all publicity is good publicity.

Personally, when I see advertisements that objectify women in order to sell engineering product, my immediate thought is that the company is (a) unprofessional, and (b) stuck in some 1960s idea of the world where I will likely have to politely ignore their misogynistic jokes in order to do business with them. My reaction is to add them to the list of companies that I'd prefer to avoid.

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16. Mike on October 11, 2011 3:07 PM writes...

@ #6. Anon on October 11, 2011 1:29 PM writes... Why have I never seen a chemical/biological advertisement with an Asian?

Maybe you are simply not looking. Just perusing a couple of recent issues of C&EN, I see Asian chemists featured in several advertisements in each issue.

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17. MarkySparky on October 11, 2011 3:33 PM writes...

#1 "Oh and the dog collar? It allows her to say, "Our people make the difference", in 276 languages."


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18. Paul on October 11, 2011 3:49 PM writes...

Look up "Male Gaze" on

(Warning: visiting that site can make hours of your life magically disappear.)

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19. Anonymous on October 11, 2011 4:36 PM writes...

@ #1 : Perhaps all CEO's should sport a collar and leash. This may stop them from **ssing on everything!

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20. Anonymous on October 11, 2011 6:41 PM writes...

That collar looks like a Merck Reversitol Delivery Neck Harness(tm)

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21. Renee on October 11, 2011 7:06 PM writes...

She looks like a dominatrix. One for computer geeks, but the ad agency must have figured it would work for chemists, too.

One (such as myself) can look at the ad and have no idea of what Saltigo is or what they do. They apparently are part of Lanxess, which is a big chemical company.

Who at Lanxess approved this? What were they thinking? Was does C & E News think when they run ads like this?

In the end, this ad is not all that different from the ones from the Riggid Tool Company, showing buxom models lovingly holding pipe wrenches.

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22. anonymous on October 11, 2011 7:44 PM writes...

"the model, a vaguely futuristic Eurofied Joni Mitchell"...
Wow Derek, showing our age now, are we (but saddly, I get it)???

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23. Actual Woman Chemist on October 11, 2011 9:06 PM writes...

#2, I don't think she's supposed to represent an actual chemist, more like "the spirit of technology", or something. But, hey, thanks for making me feel like a valued member of the community!

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24. KW's hairdresser on October 11, 2011 9:39 PM writes...


Actually, the chem field is Sino-male dominated. I agree the woman aint that cute. You know the saying, "there is cute...and there is chemistry cute."

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25. Woman Process Chemist on October 11, 2011 11:01 PM writes...

@2 - Thanks so much for your useless comments on women in chemistry. Yes its male dominated, particularly in my field. But I am hired to do a job, not entertain puerile colleagues.

This stuff just never goes away, does it. I am tired of seeing nonsensical ads that feature strangely dressed women, for chemistry or any other profession. Saltigo has clearly made an advert blunder, and C&EN has sunk to new lows apparently. This ad helps no one - not Saltigo, not women, not chemists, not C&EN, and certainly not our profession.

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26. epistemology on October 11, 2011 11:11 PM writes...

Yeah, Derek, there are WAY too many ads of women in bondage in C&E News. Spoiling the whole vibe.

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27. pete on October 12, 2011 1:12 AM writes...

@17 Marky
Alpha: "Correct, small mailman"

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28. WB on October 12, 2011 2:11 AM writes...

@#2 I've worked with some very very stunning chemists who look even better than the girl in the ad. :-)

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29. Phillip on October 12, 2011 5:01 AM writes...

One company that always seems to have good print ads (when they do them, which is rarely) is BASF. I'm not so sure about their recent UK TV campaign - it's not clear what the point is since their end-user market is certainly not the public. Maybe just to improve the profile of the company and chemistry generally? But their print ads are generally clever and interesting - maybe because they don't do it very often they save up and make it count...

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30. Michael Oxlong on October 12, 2011 8:25 AM writes...

Lets face if people (and by people I mean the heterosexual guys mainly).

Who would visit the booth if they used the face of a real chemist (nerdy guy, probably with a beard and wearing clothes from a different era).

Sex sells and I'm buyin!

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31. Aspirin on October 12, 2011 9:32 AM writes...

@2: For some reason the number of attractive men and especially women seem to increase as you go from physics to chemistry to biology. The most attractive members of the species are found in the biological and social sciences. Wonder why this is so.

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32. Anon on October 12, 2011 10:22 PM writes...

The slogan ("Our people make the difference") is such an ancient chunk of corporate goodthink that it can't even support a good covering of mold any more.

They do make the difference. The more of them we banish, the more $ management makes. See? A difference.

And what's with the cyber-gizmo dog collar thing she's wearing? One of those invisible-fence zappers, scaled up to human size?

Yes, for when she becomes a bit uppity with her boss...

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33. Anon on October 12, 2011 10:23 PM writes...

Speaking of chemicals, there's an awful lot of silicone in her lips...

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34. Northwest AJ on October 13, 2011 5:07 AM writes...

...Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the ad is supposed to convince you that their company will hook you up with a hot model in a futuristic dog collar. I can't make it out for certain from the image size, but it looks like the collar is made of an eviscerated digital camera.

Hunh. How very special. I wonder if we will see this at Photoshop Disasters.

#23: She blinded me with SCIENCE!

#31: I'd beg to differ; frankly, at my uni I've met a number of physics hotties of both genders. (I'd rate the bio and chem departments about even with each other. The physics folks are setting the curve here.) But then, I am nerdy, and my own kind appeal to me.

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35. Anonymous BMS Researcher on October 13, 2011 7:01 AM writes...

I agree with many of the views folks have expressed about this sort of ad, particularly that "people make the difference" line appearing in a publication with so many readers having been hit by layoffs. This sort of thing is also seen in other fields that are seen -- correctly or not -- as male-dominated, such as for instance automotive and computer magazines. I once wrote a letter to the editor about a particularly crude ad in a computer magazine.

And of course when companies do show geeky middle-aged males with receding hairlines like me they show us in such stereotyped postures -- peering at test tubes of food coloring, or gesticulating at computer displays. Really good ads, particularly in publications aimed at specialized audiences, try to answer the question "how are WE different from everybody else who does similiar things?"

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36. Anonymous BMS Researcher on October 13, 2011 7:22 AM writes...

@Renee: silly as they are, at least the ads in car magazines showing scantily-clad models holding pipe wrenches give some notion of what the company makes. But there again, if I am a mechanic selecting tool suppliers that sort of ad fails to give me any idea how tool maker A is different from tool maker Y.

In my world, we choose vendors by having several of them come give scientific seminars about their products.

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37. Innovorich on October 13, 2011 8:27 AM writes...

If you want truly brow furrowing, look at this new ad from Boehringer Ingleheim - eggs, parrots, girls . . . what?!:

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38. Adams on October 13, 2011 12:03 PM writes...

@31 SAID ":For some reason the number of attractive men and especially women seem to increase as you go from physics to chemistry to biology. The most attractive members of the species are found in the biological and social sciences. Wonder why this is so."

For the most part (mutants aside) people don't overdevelop unnecessary abilities, whether they be physical or mental unless it serves a purpose.

The 'purpose'- (a mere shadow of LTUE*) for most humans is to maximize rewards, whether they be emotional or monetary.

The hot chicks you've so accurately observed in the biological sciences have received excess emotional gratification from their own mere existence, rather than through hard work.

Their standards for achievement are thus lower, because they have half the population tripping over themselves to help them. They perceive accomplishment differently.

The hot chick thus goes the 'mass memorization' route of the biological field because it is easier and commensurate in magnitude with their internal effort-reward model.

I would also gather that many started off with the idea of going into nursing and for some reason were tricked into going to grad school by their advisers in college.

*-Life, The Universe and Everything.

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39. Josh on October 13, 2011 2:26 PM writes...

Is it possible she comes with an "off" switch?

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40. Moebius on October 13, 2011 2:37 PM writes...

Well, I don't know if the girls are that much prettier in other fields, but they sure seem to dress better and take better care of their appearance than in the geekier fields.

I was wondering how come I got stared at at the ACS until I realized I was wearing red high-heeled shoes in a sea of black, grey and brown...

Apparently, I am a female, geeky, organic chemist with a sense of fashion and a thing for shoes (especially red ones, hence inheriting the nickname Dorothy in my old lab).

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41. sepisp on October 14, 2011 9:07 AM writes...

#2, do you live in Arserape, Texas? You Americans never cease to amaze me. First it's all talk about equality and then we have horrible and unadulterated misogyny.

No, I'm a man. And in here, the chemistry scene is composed of about equal numbers of men and women, both including all sorts of people.

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42. Rhet on October 14, 2011 11:25 AM writes...

There was one company that used to advertise its centrifuges by having a pretty woman wearing a labcoat sitting on top. It had always struck me as odd, because I thought you _didn't_ want those machines vibrating...

I wish I had a link to the research that suggests that while sexual imagery attracts attention to ads, the actual ad messages tend to get lost.

In the meantime, here's an article about the portrayal of women in other pop culture scenarios:

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43. MoMo on October 14, 2011 2:19 PM writes...

I was attacked recently by a big Pharma-bear that was wearing a collar similar to the cyborg's. Its claws ripped my skin open, leaving me in the woods of VT until I was discovered by a forest ranger. Luckily I was transfused in time.

But this Ad woke me from my coma, it must have something to do with the colors or the proposterous molecule-I don't know.

I know that if I continue with my current occupation its only a matter of time before I am again molested by the dreaded Pharma-Bear!

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44. sepisp on October 17, 2011 8:13 AM writes...

Here's a free tip to advertisers: Don't spell e.g. "Qualty Control" or "Acurate".

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45. djd on November 30, 2011 12:56 AM writes...

@ 34 "…looks like the collar is made of an eviscerated digital camera.":

I thought so too, particularly the "empty" area at the top of the lowest circuit board which suggests there's a large chip with few support components (like a CMOS imager) on the reverse side.

Speaking as an electrical engineer, what I found funnier was the big empty socket at the front of the "collar". Pretty layout, but no CPU?

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