Since When Are Libraries Known for Brilliant Marketing?

This month’s marketing lesson comes from one of the best examples of marketing ju-jitsu I’ve ever seen.

In ju-jitsu (a/k/a jiu-jitsu), like many martial arts, you use the strength of your opponent, rather than your own strength, and deflect it back on him or her. You get to still be nonviolent and righteous, while your opponent is lying in a heap on the floor.

Similarly, in marketing ju-jitsu (a term that may have been coined by Max Lenderman in 2001), you can overcome an opponent with far greater resources who can afford to hire wildly talent advertising agencies and saturate the airwaves with the result.

In the business world, the classic examples are car rental giant Avis’s “we’re only #2 so we try harder” campaign, Volkswagen’s Small Wonder ads from the 1960s, and of course, the legendary Smash Big Brother ad that debuted the Apple Macintosh in 1984.

In the anti-business world, the day in 1967 Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies threw dollar bills on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange comes to mind, as do many of the Adbusters campaigns, such as Buy Nothing Day.

So what does this kind of guerrilla marketing have to do with libraries? Librarians are thought of as a quiet bunch who rarely make any kind of public stink (though this is actually not true—just ask progressive author and filmmaker Michael Moore, whose book Stupid White Men was saved by a national campaign by librarians).

Well, here’s a video (less than three minutes long) outlining a particularly intense use of marketing ju-jitsu: threatened by a Tea Party campaign to defund the library, supporters created a fake campaign in favor of book burning, even saying the event would include live music and refreshments generating massive backlash. They then revealed their true agenda: to raise consciousness that “closing a library is like burning books.” This in turn resulted in a massive outpouring of library supporters on Election Day that easily defeated the defunding initiative. And both the book burning announcement and the later clarification got lots of social media buzz and the attention of thee press nationally.

Go watch it now. I’ll wait.

Back? Good.

I’d love you to share the takeaways you got in the comments, below. Here are some of mine:

  • Memes have a lot of power. Revulsion against book burning is a deep-seated response to centuries of oppression. Whether in 15th-century Spain, 18th-century America, Nazi-era Germany, or the late Ray Bradbury’s fictional dystopia Fahrenheit 451, book burning is seen as an attempt to suppress and control thought.
  • Reductio ad absurdumarguments—taking a line of thinking past its logical conclusion iinto the realm of the ridiculous—still work.
  • Even without funding, an organized populace can defeat injustice, especially when we make it a mom-and-apple-pie issue. (This was the approach we used when we saved our local mountain.)
  • Please share yours in the comments, below.

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