Monday, June 18, 2012

Stealth ad campaign helps to keep Troy, MI library open

BoingBoing writes that the city of Troy, MI didn't have enough money to keep the library open, so it tried to get a tax increase of 0.7% passed by the voters. A local Tea Party group inundated the city with TV ads, posters and mailers opposing the tax increase, simply because it was a tax increase--they didn't care that it was for the library. The tax increase was defeated in two separate elections. The library was able to schedule a third and final vote, which the Tea Party again opposed. This time, however, the library approached ad agency Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide for help. They only had $3,500 for the campaign.

The ad agency came up with a brilliant idea: They created a sham "astroturfing" political group and started putting signs up on lawns around the city, saying "Vote to Close Troy Library August 2nd; Book Burning Party August 5th." The signs had a link to a Facebook page about the book burning party. People in the community stole the signs; the library secretly put them back up. They even launched an eCommerce site selling, among other things, book bags (the site said "Book bags--what a quaint idea.") The "close the library-burn the books" campaign got local attention, then national and international press--and then, a few days before the election, the agency posted the real message on the Facebook page: Closing the library is equivalent to burning its books. That got a new flood of coverage.

When the election came, turnout was twice as high as expected, and the tax won in a landslide. By focusing voters on the value of literacy and shared community, rather than taxes, the library won.
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