This was a striking campaign that took the relatively dry subject of the International Year of the Periodic Table and used it as a springboard to raise awareness of the chemical sciences and highlight how modern chemistry is facing up to global challenges. The judges were impressed by the creative approach that focused on the sustainability agenda, highlighting the increasing scarcity of natural elements that are vital for modern electronic gadgets. The campaign set tough targets to get the country talking about the elements and smashed them, with the conversation going global.

Mark of Excellence:

  • British Antarctic Survey
    Naming a new Royal Research Ship

This was a very creative campaign using the high profile and public celebration of the new Royal Research Ship to engage young people in STEM subjects and inspire the next generation of designers, engineers, and researchers in polar science. The execution, based on creating partnerships with BEIS and STEM Learning to shape the Polar Explorer Programme, really impressed the judges. The results were spectacular, with over 10,000 primary school pupils participating in the programme, while several million school children had the chance to learn about – and be inspired by – the challenges of polar exploration.

Finalists:

  • Companies House
    Recruiting digital apprentices
  • Red Havas and AO Mobile
    AO Mobile Launches the UK’s First Phone ‘Slow-Lane’
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh
    Women in Science in Scotland exhibition
  • Stone Junction
    Busting graphene myths
  • The Open University
    The OU to the Moon and back
  • Tin Man and The Institution of Engineering and Technology
    #ISeeMoreSpace – Life on Mars

Winner entry:

Brief, objectives and budget:

The UN designated 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT) – celebrating 150 years since Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev created it – a prime opportunity for the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to raise awareness of the chemical sciences and highlight how modern chemistry is facing up to global challenges.

We needed a campaign that would reach as many people as possible to start to make a dent in the issue. We set ourselves tough targets:

  • Achieve two high profile pieces of coverage in the UK media
  • One broadcast opportunity
  • Generate at least 2 million impressions for #PreciousElements on social channels
  • Attract at least 1,000 people to our webpage by the end of 2019
  • Influence government to act on e-waste.

The idea, research and planning:

One of the biggest issues facing us all is sustainability and to mark IYPT, we chose to target a chemistry-specific aspect of the sustainability agenda, the increasing scarcity of natural elements. Several chemical elements face an uncertain future, with huge quantities used to feed our insatiable gadget habit. Globally, natural reserves of elements such as tantalum, yttrium, silver, gallium and arsenic are being consumed at such a rate that, within 100 years, they will be fully mined.

While essential to the function of gadgets and computers, these elements have other crucial functions – in MRI scanners, solar panels and medicines – so could be equally important in technologies of the future.

So, we commissioned research to look at the habits of people across the country, asking:

  • What electronic devices they owned
  • How many unused electronic devices they had
  • The age of the oldest unused device they had
  • What they planned to do with unused devices
  • If they weren’t planning to recycle them, why not?

We found millions of UK households are stockpiling old tech – with up to 40 million old devices stored away indefinitely. Worse, few knew how to recycle them. All age groups were stockpiling, but young people now own so many devices that a much bigger future problem could be looming.

Strategy, creativity and innovation:

To generate conversation, we had to start with a bang. We liaised with the BBC to create a weighty and impactful package spanning its full range of channels.

In addition, we:

  • Issued press releases to wider media – targeting technology and environment reporters, as well as consumer tech and computing media
  • Launched a social media campaign with influencer outreach and downloadable resources on our website
  • Directly provided our members with social collateral through an email campaign
  • Prepared briefing notes for parliamentarians to ensure they are aware of the issues and the actions required to change the situation
  • Lit up 11 university buildings across the UK and Ireland, with a laser projection of our scarce elements periodic table celebrating Chemistry Week and #IYPT2019
  • Linked the projections with the sustainability themed Science and the Parliament event in Edinburgh
  • Organised a string of family-friendly events using the #PreciousElements campaign to bring the periodic table to life
  • Provided teaching resources for schools.

Delivery/implementation of tactics:

We launched on August 21, and by the end of the day we’d smashed our original objectives, with the launch piece on BBC News and BBC Breakfast followed up with extended coverage on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, BBC Radio 1, 1 Extra, a special Channel 5 News feature, The Register, Mail Online, The Times, Edie.net, EuroNews, CCTV2 in China, Tech Radar, and Trusted Reviews.

Consumers were made aware of something they didn’t even realise was an issue. When our colleague Elisabeth Ratcliffe appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, people called in from all across the country to express their surprise at being part of the problem, with reactions echoed across news coverage and social channels.

Our social activity accelerated the campaign further, with key influencers joining the campaign, including Compound Interest and Future Scot.

A briefing note was sent to parliamentarians to raise awareness of the issues, but DEFRA was so influenced by the coverage they proactively requested evidence for an upcoming enquiry. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) invited us to share evidence to inform an inquiry into e-waste that will result in a series of recommendations to government.

Then, during Chemistry Week in November, we ran interactive family-friendly events bringing the periodic table to life – drawing thousands to watch 11 universities across the UK and Ireland being lit up with a laser projection on our precious elements. This was timed to link with RSC’s annual Science in the Parliament event in Edinburgh. Under a sustainability theme, Precious Elements was a core focus, prompting much discussion and debates with MSPs during panel sessions.

Meanwhile, parliamentarians tabled motions across the devolved nations, in the Holyrood, Westminster and Cardiff Parliaments – with our campaign receiving widespread cross-party support.

As a direct result of our campaign, EMR Metal Recycling partnered with Curry’s PC World, the UK’s largest electrical retailer, to launch a new recycling initiative in UK schools.

Measurement, evaluation and impact:

Our targets to get the country talking were ambitious. We smashed that target, with the conversation going beyond the UK’s media and all across the world.

During the launch phase we achieved:

  • 576 pieces of coverage, across print, radio, trade, consumer tech, TV and web, across the UK and internationally
  • 9million impressions on #PreciousElements on Twitter, 1,285 engagements on Facebook and LinkedIn
  • 3,658 visits to RSC’s own Elements in Danger webpage.

Even if each of the unused pieces of tech sitting in people’s homes were worth just £10 each, encouraging all to act would be tackling a £400million problem.

Our work isn’t done yet. In 2020 we will announce details of an exciting partnership with an environmental charity and sharing news from scientific innovators using chemistry to address the issue.