What Is the Smithsonian?

First Ad Campaign Plans To Answer That Question
September 20, 2012
News Release
Social Media Share Tools
Smithsonian Seriously Amazing Question Mark

Most Americans know the Smithsonian―or at least they think they do―with its iconic objects, like the Hope Diamond and Dorothy’s ruby slippers, coming to mind. But the Smithsonian is far more than objects on exhibit. To help people understand that it is a place of scientific discovery, cultural exploration and collaborative learning, the Smithsonian is embarking on a first―a national advertising campaign to show that while the Smithsonian is many things, it is also one thing: “Seriously Amazing.”

The Smithsonian’s new tagline, “Seriously Amazing,” is the foundation of the ad campaign. It evokes both the Smithsonian’s important scholarship and the “wow moments” it delivers every day. Together with the new website seriouslyamazing.com, the campaign’s goal is to broaden people’s understanding of what the Smithsonian is and does and also present it as an exciting resource for discovery and learning. The campaign launches Sept. 20.

“The Smithsonian isn’t just about museums and research centers but also the crucially important work that goes on within them,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “And we’re not just about our collection items but also the incredible discoveries, stories and learning opportunities they provide us all. This campaign offers us an historic moment to directly show the American people that we are much more than they ever thought and that the Smithsonian is an open resource for them to discover and explore.”

The campaign is part of Clough’s overall vision to make the organization a more relevant, accessible and inspiring resource. The ads will run through November. The seriouslyamazing.com website will continue and grow through the following year, helping to expand people’s perception of the breadth and depth of expertise at the Smithsonian and the endless opportunities for learning it provides.

Asking questions and finding the answers is at the heart of the Smithsonian, and so “Questions Alive,” as the campaign is called, is a natural fit. To pose the questions, the ads feature seven characters, each representing areas of Smithsonian expertise:

  • The Discoverer explores the world and the universe.

  • The Storyteller is about America, its people and the tales they can tell.

  • The New is where technology and creativity collide.

  • The Wild represents the diversity of the animal kingdom.

  • The Green reflects the wonder of the natural landscape.

  • The Masterpiece embodies artistic expression.

  • The Mash-up stands for the ways people share culture.

The ads will run online, in magazines and in outdoor venues in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. They will feature the characters paired with intriguing questions they might ask the Smithsonian. The answers to these and many other questions will be found at seriouslyamazing.com. The site will make it easy to explore and engage with the Smithsonian through art, history, science and culture.

“We really wanted to do something fresh and unexpected with the campaign,” said Pherabe Kolb, associate director of strategic communications at the Smithsonian. “We know from our research that younger people are not aware of what the Smithsonian has to offer. The fun look and feel of these ads, combined with the cool things they can learn on the seriouslyamazing.com website will help them see the Smithsonian in a new way.”

The research for the campaign, which began 18 months ago, included a national survey of 1,200 randomly chosen adults from each demographic of the 2010 Census. The results: 89 percent of the people were aware of the Smithsonian―an extraordinarily high name recognition; but that awareness dropped to 77 percent for young adults. Additional research included focus groups with diverse participants, interviews with people in organizations similar to the Smithsonian and in-depth interviews with 15 people from key audiences―revealing that young adults did not consider the Smithsonian relevant to their daily lives. In reaction, the campaign emphasizes digital ads and the new website, which fit into their lives and how they learn.

The Smithsonian worked with the brand consulting firm Wolff Olins to create the ads. The seriouslyamazing.com website was created by the digital agency Threespot. Promotional support for the “Seriously Amazing” campaign is being provided by Target.

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Linda St. Thomas