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David Lee King

Hey Milwaukee, You’re Doing it Wrong!



Milwaukee Public Library billboard

Milwaukee Public Library is running an interesting billboard campaign right now. See the image above – that’s the billboard – it’s being displayed on digital billboards “throughout Milwaukee County at no cost” (from their press release).

My three thoughts upon seeing this:

Thought #1: “Yikes! They’re showing their print book bias.”

Thought #2: Looks to me like the public library is telling Milwaukee social media users that they’re doing it wrong. In essence, they’re saying “reading books is better than what you’re doing.” It’s sort of a negative message.

Thought #3 (a bit more here): Two of the three messages don’t really make sense, and one seems format-specific. Here’s what I mean:

  • Putyourfaceinabook and 140 characters? try millions (book vs. Facebook/Twitter): these two don’t really work for me. Twitter and Facebook are online social communication tools; books are, well … things you tend to read by yourself. It’s an apples to oranges comparison. Reading a book is great – but not if I want to chat with a friend, or do some work, or, say, run a revolution in the middle east (all things that people do via Twitter and/or Facebook).
  • You Could Be Reading (book vs. Youtube): To me, this message makes the claim that one form of content is better than another – i.e., books are better than video-based content. Books certainly work well for some content, but a book isn’t always the best choice! For example, books aren’t the best choice when I want to watch the new Van Halen video, figure out how to install a storm door, or watch a full-length movie (all things I can easily do via Youtube).

I get that the billboards are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and that many online types think they’re witty and clever. And I think books are wonderful – no problems there. But I also see a lot of libraries taking wistful looks into the past, rather than actively planning to navigate our emerging digital content future. To me, these billboards are looking into the past.

Things aren’t going to go back to the way they were, no matter how many times we tell people they should be reading a book instead of watching a Youtube video or hanging out on Facebook. Is this the message you want to send to your community? I’m not convinced it is.

Then again, I could be way off my rocker. What do YOU think about these billboards?

Update – Check out Will Manley’s post for a historical perspective on a very similar issue … with the same library, no less (ok, and I’m blushing a bit, too – thanks for the kind words, Will!).

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/LibrarianRy Librarianry

    I think they would have been more beneficial to the library system if it advertised their facebook page, twitter account, and youtube page rather than trying to steer people away from them.

  • Drwood728

    I find it frustrating that they’re running this campaign while librarians are constantly defending themselves to the general public about their relevance in the future. I hear all the time from people who think libraries won’t exist “in the near future.” We know this isn’t true but this campaign plays into that stereotype I believe. Thanks for the step back Milwaukee.

  • Albhenderson

    The ads seem elitist to me. I’m a librarian, and I’m an avid reader of books, but I also like social media and see a lot of value in it. Bad call, MPL.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Agreed – that’s way more of a positive message. Especially odd since they DO have a Facebook and a Twitter account.

  • matt0001

    They’re actually at the forefront of the next big thing: Social Media backlash.

  • Jamie

    I think it’s clever and attention-getting.  Hey, we’re talking about it! I don’t think it comes across as elitist.  I didn’t see this and think, “how dare the library tells me I should stop watching videos on YouTube and read more!” Do library patrons think like librarians?  It will be interesting to see what kind of buzz it generates. It’s just a billboard….

  • Sarah Houghton-Jan

    Well said David.  I like books a *lot*, but the book-centric elitism in these ads and in many campaigns for libraries reeks of the very limited-focus problem that people say will make us irrelevant.  You want to just be books? Be an archive, not a public library.

  • http://nmbrock.wordpress.com/ Nicole Brock

    I thought the ads were sort of an interesting way to get people’s attention. But then I clicked through to the MPL’s website, and realized they’d be better off focusing their attention on that!

  • http://twitter.com/bmljenny Jenny Reiswig

    I’m in the “cute and attention getting” camp.  The YouTube and Twitter parodies don’t mention the word book, and none of them mentions the words paper or print. You can pretty easily put your face in an ebook.  I’d like to hear from someone involved in the campaign about why they felt their market would respond to these before concluding they’re
    doing it wrong.  Books: really not all that bad.  That might not be a slogan that would work in Milwaukee but it might work among librarians.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    That’s why I asked – glad to hear your perspective on this! I’d love to see the reasoning/planning behind the campaign too – what’s the goal? Who’s the audience? How will you measure it to see if you succeeded?

  • Krista

    When I first saw the Twitter version (140 characters) the other day, I thought it was attention grabbing and clever.  I didn’t see it as elitist or looking down at social media.  
    I still don’t see it as elitist and I don’t think the “lay person” (for lack of a better term) will either.  In fact, the way it first came to my attention was thanks to a retweet by someone I follow on Twitter.  She’s in property management and has never been involved professionally with libraries.  She just loved it.

    So that’s the conundrum.  As a librarian, I understand that we need to promote ourselves beyond books.  At the same time, a clever ad is a clever ad and people are enjoying it.   

  • http://twitter.com/LibTwitArmy Librarian Army

    I don’t think this will have an impact one way or the other.  It’s not going to get someone into the library who wouldn’t have already been there- and it’s not going to change what they do when they are there.  Much in hte same way a READ poster doesn’t actually cause someone to read who wasn’t going to already.

    This is- like most government agency advertising, a waste of money.

  • http://librarianbyday.net Bobbi Newman

    eh, I think its a fun lighthearted campaign that thinks outside the box. Nice to see a library not taking themselves or their social media too seriously. Way to go Milwaukee!

  • http://twitter.com/LibraryRenewal Library Renewal

    Milwaukee should be commended for creating library marketing that doesn’t look like library marketing.

  • http://twitter.com/kgs K.G. Schneider

    I think it works. Not put off by the book branding at all, or the gentle playfulness around social media. I find putyourfaceinabook incredibly cute.

  • http://twitter.com/kgs K.G. Schneider

    I think it works. Not put off by the book branding at all, or the gentle playfulness around social media. I find putyourfaceinabook incredibly cute.

  • jillkate

    I think it’s primarily meant to be funny – where’s your sense of humor, David?

    Aside from that, I think they’re trying to say: “Hey, remember in 90s, when you didn’t spend a couple hours a day on twitter and facebook? What did you do with that time? Oh, you READ.” 

    Now everybody can get all tangled up judging which is a better thing to spend your time doing. But I agree with matt0001 – there is a growing backlash. Everyone says they hate facebook, think it’s a time waster, don’t like half the people they’ve had to “friend” etc – so why not tease people a little with that? 

    Is that any different than that recent car commercial which encourages people to get out and see things in the world? (it says, “nobody ever filled a photo album with screenshots of websites…. the internet will survive without you”)

  • John Pappas

    For the record, I love these. They are attention getting, snarky and a bit confrontational…and I like that. for fun, we threw together some alternate versions that may be “friendlier.”  
    https://plus.google.com/103900810161918675722/posts/fBt9RQ6ntbK

  • Kathy Dempsey

    David, ya know I love ya, but I gotta disagree on this one.

    I think the basis of our disagreement is that I don’t see these as dissing social media at all. I see it as reminding people to read — in any format. None of these ads relate directly to print books, which seem to be the immediate feeling that you got. (Note that you even wrote “book VS YouTube” as if it’s a contest.) 

    I like the first one b/c it’s a different take on “Face … Book.” Clever. (and it could still be an ebook, comic book, whatever)

    I see the other two as gently poking at people’s short attention spans, reminding them that there’s more to entertainment / learning / communication than 60-sec videos and 140-char thoughts. 

    I can see where you’re coming from, but you being you, you’re more sensitive to the “libs as book warehouses” thing than laymen. If the library wasn’t incredibly aware of the 3 social sites, they wouldn’t know enough to poke fun at them like this. 

    Finally, the press release says the billboards are for a literacy campaign, so Milwaukee is on target for prompting big social media users to read something a little longer than a post or a tweet. 

  • Kathy Dempsey

    David, ya know I love ya, but I gotta disagree on this one.

    I think the basis of our disagreement is that I don’t see these as dissing social media at all. I see it as reminding people to read — in any format. None of these ads relate directly to print books, which seem to be the immediate feeling that you got. (Note that you even wrote “book VS YouTube” as if it’s a contest.) 

    I like the first one b/c it’s a different take on “Face … Book.” Clever. (and it could still be an ebook, comic book, whatever)

    I see the other two as gently poking at people’s short attention spans, reminding them that there’s more to entertainment / learning / communication than 60-sec videos and 140-char thoughts. 

    I can see where you’re coming from, but you being you, you’re more sensitive to the “libs as book warehouses” thing than laymen. If the library wasn’t incredibly aware of the 3 social sites, they wouldn’t know enough to poke fun at them like this. 

    Finally, the press release says the billboards are for a literacy campaign, so Milwaukee is on target for prompting big social media users to read something a little longer than a post or a tweet. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/waltcrawford Walt Crawford

    I think they’re clever uses of widely-understood images. And, man, “Doing it Wrong” is pretty strong stuff just because you would have done it differently: You’re explicitly attacking another public library. (Yes, Sarah, I read your G+ message too, and I disagree.)

  • Andrew Shuping

    David I think your wording of “you’re doing it wrong” is a bit harsh.  I see their sign as trying to get their communities attention and remind them that they are there and just having a bit of fun trying to capture people’s attention.  And I want to highlight the word “their.”  Because that’s what the billboard is about, their library, their community.  It’s not meant to be an advocate for the entire library profession, but trying to reach out to their community.

  • http://twitter.com/heidigoseek Heidi Blanton

    David I’m with you on this.  I think you’ve hit every reason as to why I didn’t like these ads the first time I saw them.  I guess I was surprised to see so many people in favor of them. 

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    “you READ.” Righto – and what do you do on Facebook and Twitter? Read. Well, unless you’re playing Farmville. There’s no hope for you then :-)

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    I’m cool with it if it really works for their community – yay… and if there was planning around the campaign, like I learned from your way cool marketing for libraries book. I didn’t see a lot of that from their press release – it was focusing on “going viral.”

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    I disagree about “explicitly attacking another public library.” The title of the post comes from my Thought #2, where I explain that that seems to be the message sent to Milwaukee social media users. Otherwise, I deflect from the library by saying “I think” or “Looks to me like” – I’m simply sharing my thoughts on it, and asking for other people’s thoughts.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Yep – agreed, Andrew. It’s definitely for their community, and if it works well for them … then I was way off my rocker.

  • jillkate

    Social media is like reading the newspaper – reading a book is like… reading a book.  You should probably have a balance of the two.
    Also – “a billboard directing people to their facebook and twitter accounts” – ugh. No! I use both sites frequently and I follow / friend several business, but even I am completely sick of hearing / seeing “Follow us on Twitter! Friend us on Facebook!” I probably see that 15+ times a day. Imagine if you’re one of 87% of people not on Twitter – how sick of it would you be? (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/01/twitter-pew-statistics_n_869790.html) So when an ad comes along and makes fun of that – it grabs your attention and it’s hilarious!
     

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_MKE David Olson

    I made these.  I’ll try to answer some of the questions I’ve read below.

    The goal, as with the majority of advertising, is to get exposure for the client.  The audience was any individual driving past our digital billboards in the Milwaukee area.  The campaign ended up snowballing and the audience is now worldwide.We only intended the ads to run in our market, so the fact that libraries from Europe, Australia and elsewhere have asked if they can use this campaign tells me that it has been a success.I can guarantee that if we had just gone with headlines like “Like us on Facebook.” or “Follow us on Twitter.” we would not be here talking about the campaign.

    As for it being a waste of their money, the MPL has not paid a dime.  We have donated the space on our structures.  They are basically getting unexpected worldwide coverage for free.

    With those things being said, this started out being a completely unsolicited project.  I had some free time at work in December to come up with ideas for any prospective client I could think of.  One of the results was this campaign, which we presented to the library.  They loved it and it has been running in our market since then.

    Thanks for starting this discussion about the campaign on your site.  It’s great to get different perspectives, input and suggestions.

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_MKE David Olson

    Great minds think alike.  That first one is close to another campaign I made for the Madison Public Library’s painting program. http://ihatebursts.com/2011/11/29/library-painting-campaign/

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_MKE David Olson

    Looks like the formatting went a little crazy up there. Sorry about that.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Cool – David, thanks for sharing! And great job on the global splash, too :-) It’s been an interesting discussion – I’m seeing really strong reactions to the campaign, good and bad. So I think your “get exposure to the client” goal has definitely been reached.

  • Walt Lessun

    Read first.  Then you’ll actually have something to social mediate about.

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  • RoFo

    Don’t forget that this is a BILLBOARD campaign. These are ads that are meant to make an impact in the 2.5 seconds it takes to drive past them. That said, a plea to follow/like on Twitter/Facebook would not only be useless but dangerous.
    I think this campaign does an excellent job of promoting social media AND the library. Good job to MPL for having an innovative take on something that all of us in the library world have to deal with on a regular basis.

  • Chester Mealer

    Actually in the 90′s some of us were(or at least I was) already spending at least an hour online per day, mostly to chat and connect with people, and that was in the middle of nowhere.

    If the library did want to poke fun at the firehose of fb and twitter a “come get some ‘shhh!’” type of campaign I think would work better, or even “virtual reality… before it had a name”. I’m with David in saying the messages feel book centered.

    That being said my only real criticism is that they’re “dad” jokes, a little corny and out of touch.

  • Chester Mealer

    Actually in the 90′s some of us were(or at least I was) already spending at least an hour online per day, mostly to chat and connect with people, and that was in the middle of nowhere.

    If the library did want to poke fun at the firehose of fb and twitter a “come get some ‘shhh!’” type of campaign I think would work better, or even “virtual reality… before it had a name”. I’m with David in saying the messages feel book centered.

    That being said my only real criticism is that they’re “dad” jokes, a little corny and out of touch.

  • Chester Mealer

    Actually in the 90′s some of us were(or at least I was) already spending at least an hour online per day, mostly to chat and connect with people, and that was in the middle of nowhere.

    If the library did want to poke fun at the firehose of fb and twitter a “come get some ‘shhh!’” type of campaign I think would work better, or even “virtual reality… before it had a name”. I’m with David in saying the messages feel book centered.

    That being said my only real criticism is that they’re “dad” jokes, a little corny and out of touch.

  • Chester Mealer

    I was gonna do all this in the comment box but it took a life of its own, so I made it my own blog post. 

    Yes the signs are reading centered if not book centered. This does imply a judgement upon the activities suggested by the altered logos. Reading’s primacy comes mostly from it being either the only way, or the only economical way information could be transported and archived. Is reading truly a better experience when online video/audio can accurately transmit audio or visual subtleties rather than relying on my imagination to be able to reconstruct them from a description? Will even the only semi-static text of an ePub or PDF (eBook file formats) help me connect with my friends unless they happen to be authors.

    read the rest here: http://not-a-lib.blogspot.com/2012/01/cant-see-forest-of-information-for-dead.html

  • Chester Mealer

    I was gonna do all this in the comment box but it took a life of its own, so I made it my own blog post. 

    Yes the signs are reading centered if not book centered. This does imply a judgement upon the activities suggested by the altered logos. Reading’s primacy comes mostly from it being either the only way, or the only economical way information could be transported and archived. Is reading truly a better experience when online video/audio can accurately transmit audio or visual subtleties rather than relying on my imagination to be able to reconstruct them from a description? Will even the only semi-static text of an ePub or PDF (eBook file formats) help me connect with my friends unless they happen to be authors.

    read the rest here: http://not-a-lib.blogspot.com/2012/01/cant-see-forest-of-information-for-dead.html

  • Chester Mealer

    I was gonna do all this in the comment box but it took a life of its own, so I made it my own blog post. 

    Yes the signs are reading centered if not book centered. This does imply a judgement upon the activities suggested by the altered logos. Reading’s primacy comes mostly from it being either the only way, or the only economical way information could be transported and archived. Is reading truly a better experience when online video/audio can accurately transmit audio or visual subtleties rather than relying on my imagination to be able to reconstruct them from a description? Will even the only semi-static text of an ePub or PDF (eBook file formats) help me connect with my friends unless they happen to be authors.

    read the rest here: http://not-a-lib.blogspot.com/2012/01/cant-see-forest-of-information-for-dead.html

  • Kathy Dempsey

    Agreed. Planning would’ve been good, under normal circumstances.
    Having just read the creator’s explanation above, we now see the whole thing was sort of a fluke. He thought it up for the heck of it, the library liked it enough to accept it on free space (no-brainer), and it’s caught fire. 

    I think part of is the “OMG look a LIBRARY has done something out of the ordinary” and it becomes a big thing, because it’s too seldom that libraries are out of the ordinary. So we’d better keep shaking things up.

  • Michael Sauers
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  • Tim

    David:

    Whether you know it or not, you have a tendency to be openly critical of specific libraries because of their practices, outdated websites, etc. I don’t think you mean to attack the libraries themselves but I do think you should rethink of calling out libraries by name when the real focus of your posts & presentations should be on the contentpractices with which you have the issue. As a professional courtesy, maybe you try to obscure the “offending” library’s identity? With a campaign as unique as Milwaukee’s, I know that would be difficult but it’s something you should consider.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Thanks for sharing! I also give open praise to specific libraries when warranted. I much prefer calling out the good and the “not so good to me” by name, rather than trying to hide it – and I expect the same treatment.

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  • Ldharring

    I think they were going for the visual capture here…get the attention of the social media crowd, not to point out one over the other…I think you are over thinking.

  • http://www.highschoollife.org/ Tony @ High School Life

    That’s absolutely awesome. I love it! It’s pretty cool. If my local library did that….

  • Mishamstone

    I disagree and see that others have, too. I think this is a brilliant campaign. Sure, it might turn some people off but most I think will appreciate the bold stance. Thinking that we (libraries and librarians) shouldn’t be promoting books and reading is silly because we SHOULD! Yes, we should celebrate multiple formats and multiple forms of entertainment. But celebrating books and reading is NOT old school. Or not only, anyway. A number of people think they are cutting edge because they reject this notion but it’s not a verus situation, it’s an and and more situation and we can frame that better, to be sure. Books (and ebooks/eaudio) AND reading AND more. Books and reading are hip and worthy of social media attention, too.