How a Hoax Book Burning Party Saved a Town Library

Troy, Michigan couldn’t afford to sustain its library, so it scheduled a vote for a tax increase. A strong anti-tax group waged a dominating campaign against it. The library supporters in a last bid attempt approached a media agency for help on the vote. The agency used an innovative “reverse psychology” campaign to help the town understand the importance of the library.

Troy Public Library would close for good unless voters approved a 0.7% tax increase. With little money, six weeks until the election, facing a well organized anti-tax group who’d managed to get two previous library-saving tax increases to fail, supporters of the library had to get bold- really bold- well actually encourage the exact opposite reaction they wanted from the town!

The Book Burning Party

The agency and library supporters posed as a clandestine group who urged people to vote to close the library so they could have a book burning party. Public outcry over the idea drowned out the anti-tax opposition and created a ground-swell of support for the library, which won by a landslide.

The Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide agency has won a gold prize in the Effie awards for their hoax “Book Burning Party” campaign, which is credited with saving the public library in Troy, MI. The local Tea Party spent a large sum of money to oppose the 0.7% tax on the grounds that all taxes are bad, so the Burnett campaign reframed the issue by creating a hoax campaign to celebrate the library’s closure with a Book Burning Party a few days after the vote- with a budget of only $3500.

They posted signs around town that said, “Vote to close Troy library Aug 2, book burning party Aug 5.” They created a social media blitz and invited everyone to their Facebook page, adding Twitter, Foursquare, want ads, flyers and more to drive engagement. The campaign became international news as outcry over the idea of burning the library’s books drowned out the opposition and galvanized support for the library – which won by a landslide.

The outrage generated by this campaign was sufficient to win the day for the library, as Troy’s residents made the connection that closing libraries was like burning books, instead thinking about how the taxation benefits them in so many ways.

“Thanks to the library’s victory, kids can still enjoy summer reading programs, the unemployed still have job training resources, senior citizens still have access to computers, students can still get homework help and the jobs of those who work at and service the library were saved.”

About the Author

Hi there! I am Priti and I specialize in strategy and communications for impact organizations that aim to create social, environmental and economic wealth for all stakeholders. Working from the ground up, I help these do-gooders craft effective programs for community engagement, outreach and profitability. Follow my work covering do-gooders, cleanweb, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses on Ecopreneurist and at Crowdsourcing Week. I enjoy traveling with my boys, cooking up a gourmet meal from scratch and entertaining! Join my community for Social Entrepreneurs on G+ Follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Google+