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Mary J. Blige steps up to help Marlborough company in Super Bowl ad

The DMC in Run-DMC steps up for mental health; MullenLowe scores a Kentucky Fried win; IDG rebrands its communications biz; MassMutual sees quick growth of impact investing

Mary J. Blige appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Marlborough's Hologic.Chris Morris

When executives at Hologic learned one of their celebrity spokespeople, singer Mary J. Blige, would be performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, they tried something the medical device company had never done before: a national, direct-to-consumer ad campaign.

And they decided to launch it on the biggest and most expensive stage possible, by snagging a 30-second spot at the Super Bowl.

The ad features Blige going through the various things that hip-hop stars do in a typical day — while also visiting a clinician for an annual checkup. The message: Schedule your screening today.

“We weren’t looking to make laughs,” said Jane Mazur, vice president of corporate communications at Hologic. “We weren’t trying to push the next electric car. [But] I know many millions of people saw that, and it is going to change somebody’s life.”

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Marlborough-based Hologic, which makes diagnostic and screening products, has worked with Blige for the past two years as part of a broader “Well-Woman” campaign to promote regular screenings for breast and cervical cancer and other women’s health issues. The topic is a personal one for Blige, who has an aunt who died from breast cancer. Blige even joined Hologic chief executive Steve MacMillan at the Nasdaq exchange to ring the opening bell last October, to mark the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was around that time that Mazur and her colleagues learned that Blige would be among several hip-hop performers in the halftime show at last week’s Super Bowl.

“It was pretty evident to us we had the opportunity to do something larger,” Mazur said.

Hologic reached out to Cheryl Overton Communications, which had been helping with the company’s “Well-Woman” campaign. That firm connected Hologic with Ché Creative, the Brooklyn agency that designed the Super Bowl ad, and child., the director who helmed it.

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Mazur declined to say how much Hologic is spending on the campaign, which also involves ads on NBC that have aired through the Winter Olympics; but any campaign like this will typically have a price tag measured in the millions of dollars.

Getting women into the medical office on a regular basis, Mazur said, is more important to the company than building its public name recognition. That said, a Super Bowl ad viewed by millions certainly can help achieve both goals, especially if a celebrity like Blige gets involved.

From Run-DMC to Uwill

Mary J. isn’t the only hip-hop star who is helping out a local company. Just check out Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC fame, and the work he is doing with Uwill, an edtech startup in Needham launched in 2019 by entrepreneur Michael London.

London recently wrapped up a second round of investor funding, bringing the total investments it received to $5.25 million. McDaniels, who is among Uwill’s investors, agreed to help promote the company’s mission, which is to connect college students with the mental health therapists they need. Uwill lined up many contracts last year, including one with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, and is expanding quickly. London is expecting to double his workforce this year, from 20 to 40, and he’ll soon move Uwill to a larger spot in Natick to accommodate the growth. (Uwill also has about 400 therapists in its national network.)

McDaniels is an ideal spokesman because he has been public about his own battles with depression. London said having someone of his stature involved helps to destigmatize mental illness. Some people are taken aback that a musician with chart-topping hits would ever have suicidal thoughts.

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“His story is so impactful,” London said. “He’s an inspiration for all of us. He was doing therapy before therapy was cool.”

Pitching the Colonel, from Boston

It always pays off to take dress rehearsals seriously. Just ask the folks at MullenLowe, who were prepping for an in-person meeting with KFC. At stake: an agency-of-record relationship with the Kentucky-based chicken chain.

MullenLowe was one of two finalists, after several months of talks with various contenders. New KFC chief marketing officer Nick Chavez wanted to meet everyone in person for the final round. (KFC’s previous agency of record was Wieden + Kennedy.) What was supposed to be MullenLowe’s dress rehearsal for its final pitch turned into the real thing when the KFC crew’s visit to Boston was moved up by a day to Feb. 2, to avoid a forecasted storm.

MullenLowe must have made the right impression. The following Monday, Kelly Fredrickson, president of the agency’s Boston office, got the call she had been waiting for, telling her that MullenLowe won the job. It’s a big coup for the agency, after winning the T.J.Maxx account last year, and helped make up for the recent departure of key client JetBlue.

Fredrickson can’t say much about the ads now before sharing them with franchisees, although we should expect to start seeing MullenLowe’s work later this spring. While crediting her entire team for rising to the challenge, she also singled out executive creative directors Tim Vaccarino and Dave Weist for praise, as well as the agency’s behavioral science arm, led by José Aniceto.

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“It’s a significant win for us [and] it’s a big win for the city, too,” Fredrickson said. “What’s more fun than fried chicken?”

New business model, name for longtime publishing group

Mohamad Ali is building a Foundry in Needham. This one will be used to mold marketing technology, not metal.

The chief executive of International Data Group on Thursday announced that he’s changing the name of the storied IDG Communications business to Foundry. IDG is perhaps best known for the media titles in this group, such as CIO, CSO and Computerworld. But thanks to a string of acquisitions in the past three years, the emphasis has decidedly shifted toward marketing technology — or, as Ali likes to call it, “this incredible MarTech stack.”

“For decades, media was king, and with advertising, you minted money,” Ali said. “When that started going away, we needed to find something else . . . It’s now such a different company.”

Essentially, Foundry’s main purpose now is to connect buyers and sellers of technology, and to make money from being a go-between. The various publishing titles, now only online, help make that connection and also burnish the company’s reputation for domain expertise. Foundry is led by president Kumaran Ramanathan, who is based in London. But other key leaders of the 1,600-person business are based at IDG’s corporate office overlooking Cutler Park in Needham at the former PTC headquarters campus, which it will soon share with Wellington Management and shoe company Clarks.

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Spreading the VC wealth

Last year, MassMutual launched a $50 million fund to invest in underserved communities, by setting aside $25 million for Black-owned startups and $25 million for startups outside of the immediate Boston area. It’s certainly an unusual approach to investing.

“We often hear you’ll never find that many companies,” said Liz Roberts, Springfield-based MassMutual’s head of impact investments. “That’s just not true.”

It turns out that MassMutual’s MM Catalyst Fund has had no shortage of worthy investment opportunities in the past 12 months. So far, the fund has invested $7 million with 10 startups ranging from a Black-owned fintech firm in Boston (Goalsetter) to a food decontamination plant in Holyoke (Clean Crop Technologies). The latest recipient: Nth Cycle, the Beverly metals processing and recycling firm led by Megan O’Connor. MassMutual participated in Nth Cycle’s $12.5 million series A round, alongside European steel distributor Frankstahl and VC firms VoLo Earth and Clean Energy Ventures.

Nearly all VC dollars are flowing to startups run by white men, in a handful of cities, but Catalyst aims to prove there’s another way. “We know there’s incredible talent that is getting overlooked in that process,” Roberts said.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.