‘We’ve become more creative’: NY Public Library’s marketing chief on that Black Friday spoof

The print ad appeared in the New York Times

New York Public Library (NYPL) arguably won Black Friday when it printed a spoof ad promoting its ‘holiday savings,’ complete with a ‘100% off’ book token. Garnering respect from consumers and the industry alike, the campaign is the pinnacle of the institution’s new approach to creative, according to its chief external relations officer, Carrie Welch.

NYPL ran the print ad in The New York Times on Black Friday (23 November). It was accompanied by a social campaign in the same vein – a parody of the loud, bright comms campaigns launched by retailers the day after Thanksgiving — promoting the ‘deal of the season’: ‘All books are free’ for ‘an unlimited time only.’

The idea for such an established institution to invest in such an irreverent spoof came from Angela Montefinise, senior director of public relations, according to Welch. (Montefinise rather bashfully followed up stressing that the in-house execution was a team effort.) The library had run smaller Black Friday campaigns on social media previously; however, thanks to the support of one anonymous trustee, the NYPL was given the green light to go bigger in 2018.

“The crazy thing about consumerism around the holidays is it's slightly out of control; there are so many messages about how to spend money and we felt that this was a great opportunity to say: ‘You can get so much [at the library] for no money at all,'” explained Welch. “We had leaders in the past that just didn’t think this was the best place to put our marketing heft at the time, but [Montefinise] is a dog with a bone and it was a great idea, so she raised it again.”

The campaign was developed entirely in-house between all members of the communications team, which comprises marketing, PR, creative services, digital engagement, and digital media. The design was mocked up by designer Caroline Reichardt, who has experience in retail; Welch was clear the press ad in particular had to look exactly like a generic shopper poster for the idea to work.

“If we had done it as some elegant thing it would have been something quite different,” she said, adding that on the day, the paper placed it “intentionally or unintentionally” after several pages of retail ads, which gave it extra impact.

The results were enormous for the library: it processed double the usual amount of online library card signups in a day, received just over 20,000 visitors to campaign’s microsite (this jumped to 30,000 the following day) and clocked 51,000 views of its social media animation.

But while Welch and her team are thrilled with this success, the marketing chief believes the campaign validates the steps the department has already taken to take its message to unexpected places in a creative fashion, rather than making it rethink its strategy altogether.

“In the last three or four years we’ve become more and more creative and perhaps risky in the work we’ve been doing,” she explained. “It’s partly because of the teams of people in place here – myself included – and the openness of our leadership to be more imaginative. I think in the last few years the deep importance of our mission – [to demonstrate] the importance of libraries as a democratic institution to various, wider audiences – has made us all feel like we need to think differently about how we’ve projecting ourselves.”

This feeling of importance, Welch explained, has led to a greater emphasis on creativity across the board. For instance, the library previously teamed up with Mother New York for its ‘Insta Novels’ series, a program that published novels such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland onto the ephemeral Instagram Stories (the final story – Kafka’s Metamorphosis – is slated for a January release). And last month the NYPL took a page from the luxury marketing playbook by releasing its first ever ‘special edition’ library card; it generated 7,000 signups in three days.

“We will certainly be talking about the success of the [Black Friday] campaign, as well as the surprising success of other campaigns we’ve had this year,” said Welch. “We’re on the right track and I think these campaigns have proven that the things we’re doing are resonating with various audiences.”

But back to the important question; Did anyone actually cut out the ‘100% off’ token and bring it to the library?

“Thankfully, not a single person has cut it out and brought it in, so I think everyone’s got the message that it was tongue-in-cheek,” laughed Welch.

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