CAMPAIGNS: New ICI image impresses the science world - Corporate PR

Client: ICI
PR Team: The Communication Group with in-house support
Campaign: The Secrets of the Senses
Timescale: August 2001- July 2002
Budget: Undisclosed

ICI has an illustrious background. Imperial Chemical Industries was one of the UK's most influential companies during the Thatcher years, when Sir John Harvey Jones was at the helm. It is still a huge corporation with a global presence, but the last decade has seen massive changes at the company.

During difficult years for the petrochemical industry, ICI undertook essential restructuring - a lot of the heavy industry parts of the business were sold, while businesses such as Quest and National Starch were bought in the past five years. It is now a leaner speciality products and paints group, no longer employing thousands in factories.

The company felt that the changes had not been widely acknowledged, and there was a feeling that its share price reflected this. Much communication had taken place internally, but the message needed to be broadcast externally.

The Communication Group was appointed last August to get this message out to the company's stakeholders.


To create a new image that matched the company's new status. This image had to convey that it was still a good financial performer, with a huge presence in the US and Asia, but that it had changed direction.

TCG's team came up with the idea that the 'new' ICI could be characterised as being largely devoted to stimulating the senses. There was 'taste' - it makes ingredients and flavours for food sauces; 'smell' - it makes fragrances for perfumes and personal care products; 'touch' - it manufactures sensual products such as shaving foam; and 'sight' - it produces the colouring for decorative paints.

The campaign would also target an international audience.

Strategy and Plan

ICI asked TCG to re-position the company around its expertise based on the senses.

This message needed to be disseminated across the business, consumer and scientific media internationally.

At the same time, the company's reputation for scientific excellence needed to be underlined.

The agency's idea was to use consumer PR techniques in a large corporate campaign to convey the new 'sensory' positioning.

As a way of demonstrating an understanding of the senses, the agency advised ICI to sponsor a scientific study into the senses and their impact on consumers' well-being to provide a platform for the company to re-position itself.

The agency found an experimental psychologist, Dr Charles Spence of Oxford University, who is eminent in the holistic study of the senses, and commissioned him to produce a report on the subject.

Spence's 'Secrets of the Senses' study drew together all the existing holistic sensory research for the first time and provided a conclusion.

The report introduced the concept of 'sensism' - a new code for living that calls for a holistic approach to the senses - and pointed out the sensory imbalance towards vision in society.

The agency produced a synopsis of the report and printed 30,000 copies.

The idea was for the synopsis to work at a number of different levels: generating headlines, being mailed out to stakeholders and being a contribution to scientific understanding.

Accordingly, Spence became the primary spokesperson at a major launch for the report on 27 May. This also provided an opportunity for ICI to put its new positioning on the record.

The week before, there were embargoed one-to-one media briefings as the agency also wanted to interest science, society and tabloid correspondents. Spence held seminars on the subject for various scientific groups.

Measurement and Evaluation

In respect of media coverage, the report has been a major success. The subject caught the imagination and attracted national and international press attention.

On the Friday before the launch there was a large article in The Times business section profiling ICI chief executive Brendan O'Neill and mentioning a major event the following week.

The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail in the UK and Singapore's The Straits Times were among those covering the story the following week,

Broadcasters were particularly interested: CNN, BBC World, and ABC Australia all covered the story, as did scientific, business and consumer correspondents.

The subject was also taken seriously by the scientific community and seminars are still ongoing. The story has proved to have a long lifespan.

The agency is currently mid-way through a formal evaluation process.


Using a scientific study to reposition a company with a scientific pedigree seems to have been an effective idea.

Externally, the agency is yet to carry out opinion-former research to see how perceptions of the company have shifted. Although there is no evidence the campaign has had an effect on ICI's share price, in May, when the report was launched, ICI's share price rose from 309p to 332p.

Its share price - which on Tuesday this week was 320p - is said to have suffered less than most in the downturn.

The report is still provoking debate at various science forums and another print-run of the report is being considered.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in