Campaign Spotlight: Lessons in Chemistry
By Caitlin Davies, Danielle Hernandez and Georgia Rees
Published on 5 April, Bonnie Garmus’ outstanding women-in-stem debut features the ambitious, no-nonsense Elizabeth Zott, a successful chemist, single mother and tv star, as she navigates the prejudices of 1960’s America and encourages women to challenge the status quo. Lessons In Chemistry has captured the attentions of literary outlets across the world. In the UK it has already become a Sunday Times bestseller, a Waterstones focus title and has been featured in popular literary media, including Steve Wright’s BBC Radio 2 Book Club, and Sara Cox’s Between The Covers. Across America the book was selected for the Good Morning America Book Club, and has been pitched for an Apple TV adaptation starring Brie Larson. Although it is Garmus’ debut novel, both UK and US teams have gone heavy on the marketing, with both campaigns delivering a very different pitch. Here, we take a look at the incredible visual marketing by both teams on either side of the Atlantic.
Despite being a debut novel from the up-and-coming author Bonnie Garmus, the marketing campaign for Lessons in Chemistry has already been a monumental feature of this spring season in British book publishing. Doubleday UK, a boutique imprint of Penguin Random House, has clearly seen something special in this story, giving the new novel a much larger campaign than would be expected for a debut.
The striking jacket cover, which alludes to the narrative themes of science and media in the design, seems to have set the tone for the visual aesthetics throughout the campaign, leading to an array of colourful marketing materials that heavily incorporate the science theme. In the UK cover design, four block-coloured squares provide a backdrop for a female figure holding a television in a traditional 1960s dress and a bold title that gives a subtle nod to the periodic table. However, anticipating a huge buzz around this story, Doubleday UK have also worked with Waterstones to create a special edition to be featured in their bookstores. Following the same striking colour palette, the Waterstones edition leans even further into the chemistry theme by covering the end pages in a colourful design of the periodic table and spraying the edges with a similar image.
Using these eye-catching designs as a jumping off point, the marketing team at Doubleday UK have created a strong visual campaign both on social media and in bookstores. Videos posted to Instagram stories count down to publication day like an old-fashioned film lead, whilst colourful graphics highlight some quotes from the book on the author’s feed and bookstagrammers and bookshops alike share the unboxing of their books along with complimentary gifts that all fit into the science aesthetic. And with such a captivating cover it only makes sense to mirror the enthusiastic promotion in the marketing materials for window displays. Once again leaning on the strong visuals, Waterstones’ shop windows around the UK have been adorned with promotional boards in the familiar colourful palette and display tables have been constructed with chemistry themed props to draw the eye. This strong visual marketing plan will no doubt help book sales as the author continues to participate in publicity events and interviews.
The US campaign contrasts with the science theme central to the UK visual marketing. The cover is evocative of the 1960’s setting: composed of peach and bright blues, with an Andy Warhol-esque illustration of the protagonist, Elizabeth Zott, front and centre. Whilst it does not feature the periodic table on its spines, the reflection in Zott’s glasses offers a hint at the scientific elements of the story, with Zott’s side-eye highlighting the fun and determined sides to her character. The cover was revealed on 20 October 2021 across social media, by accounts including @emilymahon_covers and @doubledaybooks. Since then, this powerhouse of a campaign has generated interest during the build up to publication day and beyond, making Garmus’ literary debut one of this year’s big successes.
As part of the build-up, Doubleday shared a range of seasonal posts to celebrate the book’s upcoming release, such as a Valentine’s Day post and highlighting Lessons in Chemistry as a Holiday season past, present and future post. Lessons in Chemistry has also featured in several official giveaways, including most recently the opportunity to win custom pencils decorated with Elizabeth Zott quotes, much like the pencil seen on the book’s cover.
Garmus herself has been heavily involved in the US social media campaign, sharing a range of posts consistent with the cover’s colour scheme. Selected as April’s Good Morning America Book Club pick live on US breakfast television, Garmus has shared discussion questions, quotes and a Spotify playlist in partnership with #GMABookClub. In addition to sharing the sharp sayings of her character, Garmus has celebrated the book’s recent success as a New York Times bestseller, as well as its raving reviews.