When the pandemic hit, scientists and students alike couldn’t access their labs and classrooms, leaving an enormous gap in science education when it mattered more than ever. As parents scrambled to become interim teachers, at the same time, scientists struggled to learn new technologies to share their research. With health and science confusion pervading households globally, an opportunity arose. Could AstraZeneca make science accessible to the public and introduce a new modality for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education?
First to go was the science jargon. Next? Opening the floor to questions from people of all ages. ‘Ask a Scientist’ was born, a video series that delighted and educated students from six to 60. The series filled a void for parents and professionals, creating a new tool to support online learning and showcase groundbreaking science with an eye for health literacy. By challenging scientists to explain complicated cancer concepts, such as “circulating tumor DNA” and “oncolytic viruses”, to people of various ages, we proved that even the most complex science can be distilled into descriptions a kid can easily understand.
The series was promoted via social channels to distinct audiences: those interested in STEM education and cancer professionals. Fundamental health literacy principles guided video creation – e.g., mindfulness of word choice and readability scores to ensure access for all ages and backgrounds.
While the strategy and approach was sophisticated in design, the goal was simple – making science accessible, and easy-to-follow for everyone.
Science videos. They’re often boring, clinical, and full of complicated terminology that would challenge even the best spelling bee champion. However, when the pandemic shuttered labs, placing scientists squarely at home with their newest colleagues – their kids – something intrinsically shifted. Leading scientists were now discussing innovative research on Zoom with their seven-year-old repeatedly asking, “Mommy, what are you doing?” Parents were challenged to quickly re-learn high-school biology to help their 15-year-old with homework. The world was (and still is) in turmoil, and there was (and is) a greater need for on-demand science education. We had a choice – fight against our new normal or embrace it. We rushed to meet the challenge of providing STEM education with available resources – leaning into the shortcomings and complications of working from home and designing a series reflecting the reality of millions of families – parents, scientists, students – around the world.
Our strategy was to create simple, stripped-down videos of real and inclusive conversations that brought out the humanity needed in this moment, a feature often skipped over by existing content, such as clinical videos. We used no fancy lights or cameras -- just simple science for hard questions, a scientist, a laptop, and a curious and captive audience – filmed entirely over Zoom at a safe social distance. Using real-time social listening and keyword research, we created relatable, compelling and effective analogies to enhance STEM literacy, making these complex oncology concepts easy to understand, leveraging the right targeting to direct our videos to those who needed it most. We then worked with top medical scientists, and asked them to bring their research to life through storytelling (some worked with their kids as consultants) to ensure this cutting-edge oncology research could be understood by a kindergartener.
Just as our scientists are diverse, so was our audience – and we elevated the voices of underrepresented groups to reinforce that any person – no matter age, race, gender, or background – can be a scientist.
The video series was promoted on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and our scientist-celebrities amplified the videos on their own channels, supplemented with a personal reflection about the challenge and joy of demystifying science. Paid social promotion was deployed through 15-second YouTube pre-roll ads that targeted scientists and students. The videos were optimized daily: mitigating risk with shifting news cycles and social conversations; shifting delivery for ever-changing audiences; and strengthening cost per view metrics.
Pre-pandemic, the mantra was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, the pandemic brought to light gaps in STEM education that could no longer be ignored, providing an opportunity to rewrite the rules and produce an educational series inclusive to all audiences. In a time where greater access to science education became more critical than ever, AstraZeneca broke down barriers and created a new model for sharing research and inspiring a love of science - creating a new two-way dialogue that eliminates boundaries and encourages each of us to become a champion of science.
The Ask a Scientist series resulted in benchmark-busting impact, driving 100,000+ views (pharma benchmark <1,000 views).
Cost-per-view exceeded benchmarks by 30%, with streamlined targeting and engaging content that extended reach with minimal promotional spend. One video amassed enormous viewership, becoming the most-viewed video ever on AstraZeneca’s YouTube channel. The topic (early cancer treatment) resonated with an audience seeking news related to the pandemic’s impact on health access and we adjusted our targeting strategy to offer real-time education on the topic in a bite-sized format.
Beyond the numbers, we’re proud of creating a model to make science accessible for all – our results demonstrated that the videos were equally popular with those seeking STEM education content and those searching for more technical scientific concepts. The videos also served to begin shifting internal expectations: suddenly, AstraZeneca employees understood that, in addition to making innovative medicines, their jobs provided opportunities for elevating scientific literacy and inspiring curiosity for the next generation of scientists.
The Ask a Scientist series will continue remotely through the remainder of the year and some videos will be paired with AstraZeneca’s STEM initiatives, including the USA Science & Engineering Festival and Generation Health campaign to extend content reach.
With more than 100,000 (and counting) kids, parents, teachers and scientists reached, the strong interest in the Ask a Scientist campaign proved that AstraZeneca’s inclusive approach to science education is here to stay, amplifying the ripple effect taking place across the healthcare industry to make science more equitable and accessible for all.
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