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bookburningIt can be hard to get enough funding for libraries. Troy, Michigan recently tried three times to get a tax increase passed to give the library sufficient funding to stay open. The vote failed twice, and had only one last shot on the ballot, days before the library would have to close. But as with two previous attempts, it was facing well-organized opposition who had managed to make the issue all about opposition to new taxes with no mention of the library at all.

So the library approached ad agency Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide Detroit and asked what they could do with a $3,500 budget. The company produced a guerilla and social marketing campaign (PDF) in which they pretended to be a clandestine group urging people to vote to close the library so they could hold a book-burning party afterward.

They put up yard signs all over town, placed a classified ad asking for clowns and caterers for the party, and posted a Facebook page for their campaign where they made cute little inflammatory announcements like “Our agenda’s pretty simple. We want the library to close so we can have a book burning party. What’s not to get?” This had the effect of focusing the public’s attention away from the question of a tax increase and onto the question of losing a library’s worth of books. (They did reveal it was a hoax before the actual election.)

The campaign apparently worked; voter turnout in the election was 38%, double the anticipated 19%, and the vote won by a significant margin. And the campaign ended up winning an Effie Award, the marketing industry’s equivalent of an Oscar or Grammy.

Some will find this campaign technique obnoxious, but I have to admit it made me chuckle. It really is a clever idea, you could almost say a “hack” of the political system. Whether we like to read or not, book-burning is a hot button for almost everyone. The idea of destroying knowledge triggers a kind of atavistic horror in almost any educated person—probably why the imagery is so often used to fight censorship. With only a month to go before the election, this was probably the most effective thing the library’s backers could have done to regain control of the conversation and get their message across.

(Found via BoingBoing.)

 
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