This is How You Advertise!

Libraries have a serious image problem. Many people think that they are still bastions of silence, full of rules, and devoid of fun. However, experience has taught me that, at least in the libraries I visit, conversation is welcomed and fun is practically mandatory. It’s important to have a positive image beyond superficial reasons. Now more than ever, libraries are facing severe budget cuts. A positive image for libraries can cause people to vote in favor of levies to support services or to at least match funding from previous years. It’s all too easy to designate libraries as nonessential services. That’s wrong. Libraries are essential services. Not in the way that firefighters or the police are, of course. Libraries are essential in other ways. We bridge the digital divide for those people who can’t afford computers but can’t afford not to know how to use them. We provide free or low-cost entertainment for children and adults. We educate the community about politics and news. We are necessary.

The Wisconsin Library Association has a promotion designed to heighten awareness and appreciation of libraries. The overall promotion’s theme is “Support Wisconsin Libraries : Keep Us All in a Better State” and a subcategory of it is “Wisconsin Libraries Say Cheese!” in which feel-good stories about library use are shared. The American Library Association celebrates libraries throughout the year with Banned Books Week, El Día de Los Libros, and National Library Week. These are all good promotions that have positive intentions. However, I’m not sure how much they’re heard about outside of the library sphere. Do people unlikely to use libraries hear about these events? If they do hear about them, what effect do they have?

I would like a national promotion that advertises the fun, educational, and useful aspects of libraries. Although I don’t know what form it would take, I believe it should have a catchphrase that is as easily identifiable as “Beef. It’s what for dinner.” or “Got Milk?” or “The Other White Meat.” The previous phrases are likely to be recognized by most Americans, even if they’re vegans! The cumulative effect of these positive promotions cause most consumers to smile or nod. These promotions have connected emotionally with their intended audiences.

The following two videos are examples of how advertising for libraries should be done. They should be familiar to most people surfing the internet. The Old Spice Guy’s videos have gone viral, and the other one (imitating the first), Study Like a Scholar, has been shown on Both of them are amazing and well done. The Old Spice Guy has a catchy little melody that identifies his product without him even having to say a word. And the Study Like a Scholar video uses a visual style reminiscent of the first that simultaneously pays homage to it and winks knowingly at its intended audience.

The Old Spice Guy (aka Isaiah Mustafa) has jump started his acting career by starring in a series of Old Spice commercials. The main conceit of each commercial is that by using the Old Spice product, you will become manlier. Isaiah Mustafa is the embodiment of that manliness. Rawr. The following video is pretty basic. It features the Old Spice Guy responding to fans’ tweets and emails which ask him questions. @wawoodworth asked him to do a shout-out for libraries. He most awesomely did so.

The Study Like a Scholar video was created to promote the Harold B. Lee Library at the Brigham Young University. The continuous video shots and the rapidly morphing clothing and scenery are reminiscent of the Old Spice campaign. It has been cleverly co-opted by the students to advertise their library though. It is riding the wave of pop culture, while also being very cool on its own.

So what do these two commercials teach us about advertising libraries? Hmm. Find someone hot, use humor, and don’t be afraid to be awesome.


About shortlibrarian

I am a woman working in the Twin Cities as a programming Librarian.
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