2003 – Theranos is founded by CEO Elizabeth Holmes
2014 – Over 400 million dollars raised in 3 rounds (valuation: $9 billion)
2015 – Controversy around Edison (the blood testing device) emerges
2016 – Center for Medicare and Medicaids Services revokes Theranos’ Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certificate
In 2003, Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford dropout, founded Theranos, a health-tech company. She claimed that with their patented device, Edison, they could carry out blood testing procedures with just a few drops of blood. Recently, doubts started emerging over the procedure and Theranos faced serious allegations of data manipulation. It is currently under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Over the course of my Spinning Science project, I will explore the methods employed by Theranos and analyze the use of science and rhetoric (both – visual and textual) in the above advertisement.
The Theranos ad above can be divided into 4 separate parts – the 3 vials of blood, the single word (in bold) “vs.” between the hand and the 3 vials, the human hand holding the Nanotainer™, and the plain white background with absolutely no text (except the above mention word).
Let’s start with evaluating the 3 vials of blood. How do they impact the reader? Well, for starters, it scares them. Most people are either disgusted by the sight of blood or are simply afraid. The ad presents a clear alternative and directs the viewer away from having to see so much blood. It targets the ethos and logos of the viewer and elicits an emotional as well as logical response. The viewer is constantly made to think, “Why should I give 3 vials of blood for testing when all that’s needed is a mere drop.” Initially, this “new technology” was perceived as a revolutionary and disruptive invention but recently, it has been found that Theranos fudged more than 2 years worth of data and their blood testing technique, in fact, yields incorrect results and they are often forced to use the standard machines (this was, of course, hidden from the patients).
Moving on to the next element,the single word “vs.” Theranos clearly wants the viewer to compare the 2 methods – the standard blood test and their new disruptive “one-drop” blood test. Vs. immediately forces the viewer to think of a good and a bad and the other elements of the add tell the user why going the Theranos way is better.
The 3rd element, and without a doubt, the most interesting one, is the hand with the Nanotainer™. What first caught my eye was the position of the hand. It’s placed on the right-hand side of the ad. Around 70-95% of the world’s population is right-handed, and thus right is their dominant side. Theranos takes advantage of this little tidbit of information to immediately draw the attention of the viewers to their product. The human hand is a master stroke. It adds a human element and the viewers are convinced of the credibility of the product. Additionally, the hand gesture too conveys the same message. It’s a universal symbol for “ok” or “perfect” and when people think about Theranos, that’s the image they should get in their minds. The size comparison of the Nanotainer™ with the vials may baffle the viewers at first in the sense how can something that has been in use for the longest time undergo such a drastic change so quickly. But ultimately, with all the other subtle indicators on the ad, the viewer is likely to come to the conclusion that Theranos’ Edison and Nanotainer™ is a medical revolution.
Finally, the white background without any text, explanation or introduction of the product. It’s literally nothing but metaphorically, everything. It’s bold, it’s persuasive, and it’s effective. It signifies transparency and honesty in the process even when in reality, it’s the exact opposite of that. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, is known to run Theranos like a dictatorship and be very secretive about its products and how they carry out the blood tests.
In spite of the damning lies Theranos tells the public, and how poor their internal operations and management may be, they has managed to fool the public for over 10 years with brilliant advertisements (like the one we discussed) and marketing campaigns until now, when reality has finally caught on with them. Currently facing federal criminal investigation, it’s unlikely Theranos can emerge out of this hole that they’ve dug themselves in.