The Smithsonian is Seriously Amazing

This morning the Smithsonian Institution announced to press that they’ll be unveiling their first-ever national branding and awareness campaign next month.The goal of the campaign is to show young people how Seriously Amazing the Smithsonian is and to help them see what a great opportunity they have to learn with Smithsonian.

Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian, told press “We’re not just about our collection items but also the incredible discoveries, stories and learning opportunities they provide us all. This campaign offers us an historic moment to directly show the American people that we are much more than they ever thought.”

For more than a century and a half, the Smithsonian has been devoted to ‘the increase and diffusion of knowledge.’ In 2009, they began a strategic planning effort to remain vital in the 21st century. A year later, they approached Wolff Olins with the challenge of building a brand on that strategic foundation.

Some said the Smithsonian had become one of the world’s most beloved brands ‘by accident’— it was finally time to build a brand based on intent and ambition. The brief for Wolff Olins was to craft a brand strategy that would take the institution into the next decade: more modern, more relevant, more impactful, for more people, more often. 

We began with a hypothesis that while knowledge is the foundation of the Smithsonian’s mission, in order to be more contemporary and useful, they needed to connect their mission to the idea of learning, a much more dynamic and personal concept. 



Since the Smithsonian is a complex organization, with 19 museums, 20 libraries and 9 research centers, we held multiple hands-on workshops with groups from across the institution to make our co-created ideas stronger and richer. We also did quantitative research to uncover current perceptions of the Smithsonian and ethnographic research to help us understand the different ways people learn.

The main result was a powerful brand idea that could be communicated consistently and concisely. Out of that came the Smithsonian’s tagline and the foundation of their awareness campaign: “Seriously Amazing,” an idea designed to capture people’s attention and invite them to take another look. 

“Seriously Amazing” evokes both the Smithsonian’s important scholarship and the “wow moments” it delivers every day. The campaign centers on the theme Questions Alive, using vibrant colors and photography, copy that sparks your curiosity, and a question mark that’s literally made up of young explorers, learning about the world Smithsonian-style.

The campaign’s accompanying website – – is designed to share the Smithsonian’s knowledge in a fun way that reflects the learning styles of the digital generation.

The ads feature the seven characters who make up the question mark, each representing an area of Smithsonian expertise:

•          The Discoverer explores the world and the universe.

•          The Storyteller is about America, its people and the tales they can tell.

•          The New is where technology and creativity collide.

•          The Wild represents the diversity of the animal kingdom.

•          The Green reflects the wonder of the natural landscape.

•          The Masterpiece embodies artistic expression.

•          The Mash-up stands for the ways people share culture.



You’ll be able to spot the campaign on websites, in magazines and in outdoor venues in DC, NYC, LA, SF and Chicago throughout the month of October.

We are delighted to have been a part of this project, which invites people to take a new look at the Smithsonian and reinforces their role as a vital resource for learning and discovery. Learn more at or follow the conversation with #seriouslyamazing.


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