'All books are free': New York Public Library's retail deal spoof wins Black Friday

Library sign-ups were up 32% compared to the same day last year, thanks to the clever campaign.

'All books are free': New York Public Library's retail deal spoof wins Black Friday

Company: New York Public Library
Campaign: Black Friday campaign
Duration: November 2018

On Black Friday, amid the various businesses trying to take advantage of shoppers clamoring for deals, the New York Public Library broke through the noise with a full-page ad in The New York Times.

The library had a simple but compelling message: "All books are free."

The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness and get the New York Public Library on people’s radar.

"People are coming up with their New Year’s resolution, folks know about the library but don’t think to go," said Angela Montefinise, the library’s senior director of PR.

Planning for the campaign, which was done completely in-house, began in October. The library had toyed with the idea in past years, but had lacked the budget to make the idea a reality. In 2018, however, a trustee contributed the funds to take out a full-page, color ad in The New York Times, and the team was off to the races.

The New York Public Library’s ad ran in The New York Times’ national section on November 23. The copy was designed to be a spoof on traditional retail deals.

The ad included the text, "All books are free at your local public library," along with a 100% off coupon.  

"Everyone got really excited about it," Montefinise said.

The library also created a series of ads that ran on its website and social media accounts. Additionally, an email featuring the ad copy was sent out to library patrons.

The response was enthusiastic.

In a letter to the library, one patron said, "This is the only good email I have received today."

"People are bombarded on Black Friday with email after email," said Montefinise. "We were trying to sneak attack: We are so different and what we are offering is so different."

The campaign generated a slew of media mentions, including coverage in The New York Times, Morning Edition Marketplace, Metro, Gothamist, Vice, WNYC, WPIX, Retail Dive, and Campaign Outsider.

It also blew up on social media, primarily from organic responses, Montefinise said.

"We saw a lot of influential media people responding to it," she added, such as New York Times book review editor Pamela Paul, who about tweeted the ad with a series of heart emojis.

On Black Friday, the campaign received 10,000 likes and comments, and more than 1,000 shares.

Perhaps most importantly, library sign-ups were up 32% compared to the same day last year.

Overall, the campaign "was one of the most gratifying projects to work on," Montefinise said. "We give you the best deal you are ever going to find."

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