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Want to change the way your audience thinks? Burn some books.

Picture this. There’s a small public library that’s faced with the threat of closure – and it’s last chance saloon.

Unless local voters approve a tax increase, funds will dry up and the library will need to shut its doors, once and for all.

To make matters worse, an anti-tax group’s been actively swaying public opinion – well, who really wants to pay more tax anyway in these times of austerity?

Your brief is simple: Persuade Joe Public to vote yes for a tax increase to keep the library open.  And by the way, you’ve only got $3.5k budget to play with.

What would you do?

Well, when approached by Troy Public Library with the very same problem, the smart people at Leo Burnett came up with a simple, but remarkably clever solution:

Organise a book burning party.

Because if you don’t care about your library, you certainly don’t care about books.

And there’s nothing like a book burning party to spark public outrage – getting people to take to social media in sheer repulsion at the idea.

In so doing, reframing the whole issue – making people realise that a no vote meant not only losing their library, but losing all those fantastic books, forever.

The result? Not only did more people turn out to vote, they also voted yes to a tax increase meaning Troy library stayed open.

We’ve got the good folk at WARC to thank for sharing this story with us.

And we like it, a lot – because it illustrates how a great campaign can turn the way we see things on its head, changing the way we think and act.

It’s also a fine example of what behavioural economists would call ‘loss aversion’ at play – the theory that we have an innate preference for avoiding losses rather than making gains. It took the prospect of a book burning party (and all it’s culturally loaded symbolism), to make the community in Troy suddenly realise what they were about to lose.

And it just goes to show, sometimes it’s time to set aside the rational arguments and get to the heart of what people really care about.

So when it comes to planning your next campaign, why not think about what your audience stands to lose by not doing what you want them to do – rather than what they stand to gain.

Either that or suggest a book burning party.