The Memo At one time or another, every library in America has displayed colorful posters encouraging people to read. But the bibliophiles cruising the stacks aren't necessarily the ones who need to be convinced of the value of reading.
"Most reading posters have the tone of 'Eat your peas because they're good for you,'" says Patricia Schroeder, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers in Washington, D.C. "That might make you feel good if you are already a reader, but if you aren't a reader, why in the world would that tone excite you?"
At a time when consumers' free time is dwindling almost as fast as entertainment options are expanding -and consumer demand for books is dropping-getting non-readers excited about reading and buying books is very important.
So AAP decided to do for reading what the American Dairy Board is doing for milk: glamorize the product's image with the hope of increasing awareness and sales.
To do so, AAP launched its first celebrity-based general-interest marketing campaign in May. But whom to target? And how to fund it? These were critical issues AAP's trade executive committee explored when Schroeder, former Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado, joined in 1997.
The Discovery Using research conducted by The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, New York, for the Book Industry Study Group and the American Booksellers Association, AAP learned that people age 34 and under-most likely to be parents of babies and pre-schoolers-were buying fewer books than people over age 55. The study showed adults age 55 and over are responsible for 32 percent of book purchases in this country, while those under age 35 make up only 20 percent of book purchases.
Data for the study came from monthly diaries mailed to a nationally representative panel of consumers in 16,000 households. Approximately 75 percent of the diaries are returned each month.
"There's a problem about getting the message about the importance of reading to young children," says Schroeder. "If the parents don't read for themselves, the kids won't get it. We decided we needed to make it exciting for them to read to themselves."
Targeting the young-adult age group was important for another critical reason-sales. While the 1997 study found consumer demand for adult books was flat, in 1998, research showed demand had declined. Adult book purchases dropped 3 percent last year, the first decline since the study began in 1990. "Young adults have enormous discretionary income, but there is also enormous competition for their leisure time from movies, TV, the Internet, and other venues," Schroeder notes.
Once AAP had its target market, it looked for an agency to devise and implement a campaign for which there was only $100,000 in funding. Three ad agencies responded to a request for proposals, according to Katie Blough, AAP's promotion coordinator. Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide was chosen because first, it agreed to work pro-bono for 1999; its work was highly creative; and it presented good ideas for keeping costs down.
The Tactics Schroeder came up with the tagline, "Get Caught Reading," in an early brainstorming session, hoping to make reading seem like so much fun, it should be illegal. To capture the attention of the 34-and-under group, AAP wanted to use celebrities like Whoopie Goldberg and Rosie O'Donnell, whose Q ratings were high. Each agreed to pose for free, and photographers donated their time. In one print ad, Goldberg reads Peter Pan; in another, O'Donnell is 'caught' reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.
O&M's Toronto office devised a media plan based on Mediamark Research data that indicated which publications were most popular among younger adults. "I gave them three options," says O&M group media director Philip Walton. "Utilize your membership however you can to get ads placed; negotiate a campaign, which would cost mega dollars; or do remnant rate discounting."
AAP chose to seek pro-bono ad space from members whose companies published magazines as well as books. Walton estimates the media buy for the full-page, four-color ads would have cost $2 million to $5 million. Publications included People, The New Yorker, Mademoiselle, Disney Adventures, Scientific American, The New York Times' Book Review, National Geographic, and USA Today, among others.
Retailers also are pitching in with sales promotions that tie into "Get Caught Reading." Barnes & Noble, Borders, and numerous independent book chains are using window displays, bookmarks, shopping bags, and in-store posters of the ads.
The Payoff It's too soon to tell if the May campaign has increased demand for books, but efforts to track its effect are under way. Sandra K. Paul, managing agent for Book Industry Study Group Inc., says her group is tracking sales at bookstore chains and independents from March through July, as well as sales of the two books featured with Goldberg and O'Donnell. The data will be compiled in August.
Schroeder believes the pro-bono support alone is cause for cheer: "When you look at the number of people contributing, when you add up the retail value, it's pretty phenomenal."
What the Critics Say One of the biggest problems is that the industry expects the campaign to be ongoing, just like ads for cotton and milk. AAP plans to continue -an ad shot in late May, to appeal to males as well as broaden the reach to younger demographic groups, shows Star Wars child actor Jake Lloyd reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Bill Murray reportedly is lined up for next year.
But the pro-bono well is running dry, since O&M will start charging AAP for future creative.
AAP must either find a different agency or raise significant funds from members-a decision not yet made, Schroeder says.
Peter Mayer, president of Overlook Press in Woodstock, New York, agrees that promoting reading is a most worthy cause. "Without making us (publishers) sound too virtuous, yes, we of course want to sell more books," he says. "This is the best campaign one could possibly have for what is essentially a skill everybody needs."
But Mayer concedes it's one thing for publishers to support a multimillion dollar general market campaign when just about everything is gotten for free. But will publishers support the campaign in the future, if financing is required? "It's always easy to raise money to sell something specific," he says. "This campaign is not selling something specific. That's a problem in all generic advertising. Whoever has the ball and is running with it will have to convince the others as to what contribution they would like to make from small marketing budgets."
The generic nature, though, helps sell the campaign to librarians as well as retailers. "Anything that promotes reading is good," says Linda Wallace, director of public information for the American Library Association. "People who borrow books buy books, and people who buy books borrow books, so we see it as complimentary."
Notice, Schroeder says, that the "Get Caught Reading" tagline doesn't use the word books. "If we have the newspaper people saying 'read newspapers,' and the magazine people saying 'read magazines,' and us saying 'read books,' well, that's really very silly," she says. "The consensus was to get more people to read, and beyond that, we can all figure out how to get them to read magazines or books, or whatever."