Posted by: bluesyemre | December 30, 2018

The Best (and most strategic) ad campaign of 2018


Like many consumers of content, I’ve mostly trained myself to tune out any advertising. The constant influx of ads can too-often feel like a swarm of gnats circling around you. Every so often though, a butterfly unexpectedly floats by.

The Best Ad This Year

On Black Friday of this year, the New York Public Library (NYPL) ran the following ad:

Black Friday Deal. All Books Are Free*.

*at Your Local Public Library.

For An Unlimited Time Only!

Plus Free Returns! Don’t Miss Out!

The spoof ad generated immediate results and was a success by all standard measures:

  • Growth in web traffic: 30,000 visitors
  • Social engagement: 51,000 views
  • Conversion rate: 2x

But what makes this ad so successful is perhaps not the standard measures of success but the intangibles effect on the brand. The unexpected dynamic ad, full of humor and wit, was born out of an organization that is more often seen as sleepy and old-world. This ad portends that to be changing.

Made In NYPL

The Black Friday ad is a result of the change the organization has been undergoing over the last few years.

“In the last three or four years we’ve become more and more creative and perhaps risky in the work we’ve been doing….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’re projecting ourselves,” Carrie Welch, NYPL’s chief external relations officer commented to The Drum.

NYPL’s senior director of public relations, Angela Montefinise, was behind the advertising campaign. The openness of the leadership, coupled with the donation from an anonymous trustee, enabled the NYPL to put together a campaign that spotlighted the mission of the organization in an original, culturally-relevant way.

They chose to leverage the mania of Black Friday as a backdrop to showcase the value the NYPL offers each day. Black Friday demonstrates how crazed consumerism can become over deals and discounts and yet the NYPL offers the best deal (free) every day of the year.

“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. 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 [my colleague Montefinise] is a dog with a bone and it was a great idea, so she raised it again,” Carrie Welch, said of the campaign.

The ad campaign was designed entirely in-house by its communications team which includes the marketing, PR, creative services, digital engagement, and digital media functions. The teams designed the ad and chose a multi-platform distribution approach they felt would be simple yet effective: a full-page ad in the New York Times, social media animations, notably on Instagram, and an email to its patrons.


The NYPL successfully orchestrated another marketing coup this year. Earlier in the year, the NYPL introduced the Insta Novel. Insta Novels, or #instanovels in Instagram parlance, lifted NYPL’s followers by 21,000, it’s biggest one-time follower lift to date.

#Instanovels makes content digestible. A lengthy classic, or any book sitting on your shelf, can look uninviting when Netflix is an easier, more appealing substitute. Insta Novels allows readers to engage more easily. Chief Branch Library Officer Christopher Platt praised the effort prompting people who may have never used the public library to engage with its resources in a new way: “People are engaging with a classic book and talking to their friends about it.”

But at the core of this campaign, like Black Friday’s, was again its mission. “This project is directly in line with the Library’s mission to make the world’s knowledge accessible to all,” said Carrie Welch to Adweek.

Making The World’s Knowledge Accessible

Public library access is easily worth as much as a gym membership. If you just borrow two or three books a week, that already costs as much as an expensive, $200 gym membership. And still, so few people have a library card. Many say they don’t have time to read that much, they barely read a book a month. But unlike a gym membership, you don’t even have to feel guilty about not reading the whole book, you could just read one page out of the book you borrowed and you would be more knowledgeable than you were a week earlier.

Renting is becoming an increasingly popular business model in companies, e.g., Rent-the-Runway, and for once, the public library has been far ahead of its time, offering Rent-the-Runway but for the mind.

“People should take advantage of the best deal out there—public libraries—which are in every community, welcome everyone, even the playing field for all, and fight misinformation,” the NYPL says. “A library card unlocks limitless opportunities—and saves money, which is important this time of year—so the Library hopes this campaign encourages folks to visit their local branches, get their free library cards, and start their journeys.”

The beauty of the NYPL’s tongue-in-cheek ad is not only that it communicates the value of what it’s offering but also the spirit of the brand. Rarely do we see today the effectiveness of advertising across both dimensions. Like Apple’s very well-known 1984 commercial, an effective ad campaign can convey both the inherent value of a product and what the brand stands for. A great ad doesn’t just generate sales but communicates the ethos of the company. The fact that we’re still talking about an ad from 1984 demonstrates that the best ads always have legs. When done well, ads can be butterflies.

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