Forgive me for once again misusing this blog to promote a truly splendid branding campaign. I think it’s worth sharing with the media marketing community. This one is about a citizen science project called Curieuzeneuzen (“curious noses”).

On Friday, February 23, the University of Antwerp launched an ambitious campaign to call 20,000 civilians in Flanders, Belgium, to action to measure the air quality in their streets. This large-scale research project will map the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 is a good indicator for air pollution due to traffic — and we have a lot of that in Flanders!

This academic project is the largest research for mapping air quality ever, and it is unique in its size.

The Flemish are increasingly aware of the (lack of) air quality outside their homes. They want to know about the air they breathe when they walk the streets, cycle to work, or their kids play in the garden.

According to the available data, there are a number of spots in this part of the country where the concentration of NO2 exceeds the norms set out by the World Health Organization. Too much NO2 impacts the environment in the form of smog or acid rain as well as health (such as irritation of respiratory airways, asthma, or chronic bronchitis).

Since the diesel-gate scandal, NO2 has become a mediatised topic. The citizens of Flanders need to know, and De Standaard will help them obtain this knowledge.

The University of Antwerp, Flemish Environmental Agency, and De Standaard joined forces to set up this citizen science project in order to select 20,000 participants, spread equally over the region. This recruitment campaign is conceived and managed by De Standaard.

In the ads, we ask the audience a question: “How clean is the air you breathe?” In the television commercial, we show a jogger, seemingly running in a clean park, but then taking a turn and running side-by-side with a big truck. It might be healthy to do sports, but is it still healthy to do participate in them everywhere?

After recruiting, the organisation will distribute 20,000 measuring sets via De Standaard’s distribution network. The measuring set consists of a collector, which is to be hung outside the home for one month. Private civilians, schools, hospitals, city halls, and companies are all invited to participate.

After collection and data analysis, the university will launch the results of the air quality study; and the scoop will, of course, go to De Standaard.

De Standaard has a big media and logistic investment in this project. There’s no direct sales objective, and you don’t have to buy the newspaper to participate. So why would it get involved in a project like this? Universities get funded by the government, right?

The reason is branding. If media can engage in an investigation of such amplitude and show to the pubic (and possibly its future readers) what kind of role modern media are capable of playing to reveal the truth about air quality, it shouldn’t hesitate. De Standaard will be recognised as an asset in public affairs and a contributor to the understanding of the problems of our age.

It’s vital for media to prove this by putting your mission statement in practice. For most media, this statement comes down to telling the truth. Whether you do a quick survey on your Web site or invest in a research with amplitude, it comes down to the same thing: the truth. And that’s worth some euros and tons of sweat. I’m sure our brand will benefit from it.