Award-winning book-burning hoax saves Troy, MI libraries

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. Michigan's extreme austerity measures and collapsing economy had put the library under threat, and the town proposed a 0.7% tax raise to keep it open. The local Tea Party spent a large sum of money opposing the measure 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.

The outrage generated by this campaign was sufficient to win the day for the library, as Troy's residents made the connection between closing libraries and burning books, focusing their minds on literacy and shared community, rather than taxation.

Troy Public Library would close for good unless voters approved a 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, we had to be bold. We 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.



  1. I’m all for the end result (my very first job was working at a library) but doesn’t this amount to “We tricked people to get what we wanted.”? When people find out that the library stoked the rumors to get a desired electoral result won’t that tick people off?

    1. No. 

      The ones deceiving people were the tea partiers who claimed public facilities like libraries are dropped from the sky and can continue without us paying for them.

      Just because they tell that lie a thousand times a day, driving on our highways, using our hospitals, our schools, our social security, makes it no less a lie.

    2.  It’s a strawman argument in the public discourse.  At least it was for a universally good cause.  Libraries are good for everyone, and I’ve never heard a reasonable argument of any kind against libraries other than pragmatic concerns (eg we can’t spend money on a library right now because we don’t have a sheriff’s office and a firehouse.)

      I was raised by my Father to not fear paying taxes.  I find it absurd when people rally all their might behind the idea that any tax is a bad tax.  If they believe that, then they’re total hypocrites.

      If you believe all taxes are bad, then you can’t be consistent with your viewpoint and still drive on roads, call the police, expect the fire dept to save you from a burning house, expect clean water to your house, enjoy a sidewalk, rely on your air not being toxic, benefit from any kind of public education/911 service/fair hiring…The list goes on.

      There are both good and bad taxes, but you shouldn’t view all taxes as stealing.  There are some things that are good for everyone, or nearly everyone, and it has to be paid for somehow.  Taxes are just a part of the social contract, and are the most logical way to pay for things.  You can’t borrow for everything (even though the US tries.) and you can’t just print money to pay for everything.

      Taxes certainly aren’t perfect, and the tax code of the US does need reform in that they have been twisted to favor the wealthy to a horrifying degree, but overall taxes are a tool to generate revenue, and a civil responsibility to the community, since you can’t ever expect the private sector to do anything for the public good.

      1. I was raised by my Father to not fear paying taxes.  I find it absurd when people rally all their might behind the idea that any tax is a bad tax.  If they believe that, then they’re total hypocrites.

        They aren’t hypocrites, they’re anti-citizen, anti-neighbor, and socially irresponsible.

        1. Please enlighten me as to how they aren’t hypocrites?  I laid out that anyone against taxes in general, but who benefits from any public service by definition is a hypocrite since public services are paid for with taxes.  If you live in the US there is almost *NO* way to avoid using a public service of one kind or another… So benefiting from a public service while decrying public services as evil makes you a hypocrite.  Why would you claim otherwise?

          1. They’re not hypocrites because, unless they’ve illegally avoided paying taxes, they are simply using things they have already paid for. They’d only be hypocrites if they were saying those things shouldn’t exist at all and still used them.

            What they actually are is misguided to the point of delusions, thinking that either private companies are going to take over all these services and somehow save people money doing it; or that the government will get the money it needs somewhere else (not realizing that taxing imports/exports/businesses/etc. all end up coming back to costing the public in the end).

          2. The Rizz:
            Thanks for a real argument that makes sense instead of a baseless assertion (a la EH)
            Your premise and conclusions are as true as I can tell, but I still feel that there is plenty of hypocrisy involved in the teaparty.  But thinking about it now, I agree that most of the time it’s pure ignorance and unwillingness to think mixed with nearly cultish dedication to holding the party line.

            The true essence of intelligence is the willingness to reexamine your own conclusions and principles when new information is presented.

            It’s terrifying how stubbornly opposed to thinking the public has become.

          3. They aren’t hypocrites because it doesn’t go any deeper than “taxes are bad.” They don’t have enough awareness to see the two sides required for hypocrisy.

          4. You’re not an hypocrite if you benefit from something you’re forced to do. Slaves weren’t hypocrites for eating food given by the slavemasters.

            I don’t agree with tax haters, but your accusations are unfair.

          5. To be a hypocrite I believe you have to think and actively participate in both sides of the coin.

            The teatards are about as hypocritical as my dog barking at the dog down the street because he’s barking at the other dog down the street who’s barking at the other dog down the street, etc … etc … etc.  Pretty soon every dog for a square mile is barking out the same sentiment. But none of them really knows what they’re barking at !

            In other words. They don’t think past the instinctual act of barking. In teaturdville, it’s usually just one person who starts an idea and the rest just mindlessy bark their agreement. And unfortunately, the one who starts the idea is usually some idiot on AM radio or on TV.

      2. If you believe all taxes are bad, then you can’t be consistent with your viewpoint and still drive on roads, call the police, expect the fire dept to save you from a burning house, expect clean water to your house, enjoy a sidewalk, rely on your air not being toxic, benefit from any kind of public education/911 service/fair hiring…The list goes on.

        I’m not a tax hater, but I disagree. I assume you’re against people stealing from you. Now let’s say I steal your car and leave you a Vespa in its place. Are you an hypocrite if you use it to get to work? Of course not! You didn’t ask them to steal your car!

        Now, if one considers taxes to be theft, then the same applies. They’re forced to pay them, it’s not hypocrisy to use the stuff they pay for.

        Now consider the following excerpts from This American Life’s “Wha Kind of Country” episode:

        Jan Martin: And a gentleman came up to me and actually thanked me for the adopt a street light program. He had just written a check to the city for $300 to turn all the street lights back on in his neighborhood. And I did remind him that for $200 if he had supported the tax initiative, we could have had not only streetlights, but parks and firemen and swimming pools and community centers. That by combining our resources, we as a community can actually accomplish more than we as individuals.

        Robert Smith: And he said?

        Jan Martin: He said he would never support a tax increase.

        Some people are genuinely against taxes, even if it costs them more. To them, it’s a matter of principle. I don’t share their view – not by a long shot, I’m left leaning by Europe’s standards – but I respect it.

        1. It’s a matter of principle in the same way that a 13 year-old refusing to clean his room or do his homework is a matter of principle.   The only principle is shortsighted selfishness and a refusal to acknowledge that one is part of society and benefits from it.

        2. A matter of principle.

          And in the teabaggers case, that principle seems to be : I’ll have everything I need supplied for me, but I shouldn’t have to pay for it because there are welfare queens who have the same things but don’t pay for it. I know you are but what am I? But, Obama Obama, Obama !

        3. Truthfully, I don’t know what their principles are … or what the teatards actually stand for other than white power and similar phobic douchebaggery. So I just made up my last reply.

          What I do know however, is the effect thier principles have had on the country via their involvement in our government. None of it is any good for America.

    3. Oh no !!!

      The teaturds are gonna be pissed off ???
      Oh heavens no !!!!!!!!!!!

      What shall we EVER do to make it up to them ???
      Because after all …. they’re usually  soooo  nice to everyone else. They’re also such exemplary  model citizens and their economic model is just top notch !

      They don’t deserve such tomfoolery and disregard for their feeeeeeeee -lings and ideas !!!

  2. Maybe it’s best not to spread this around too much, since other libraries will surely need similar help. 

  3. This is my library.  This awful campaign had nothing to do with saving the library.  It was a horrible campaign and the pro-library folks were horrified by it.  These idiots didn’t even tell the library what they were doing and the librarians had no idea if people were going to come in and burn their books.  It was a foolish stunt.  People had already made up their mind before these idiots started with their stupid campaign.  The work we pro-library people did was to get the people out to the polls.  Leo Burnett had NOTHING to do with the library staying open.  All they did was confuse people.  They got this award for being cutting edge, nothing else.  Did anyone do any exit polls to see if this campaign helped?  

    1.  There were three rounds of attempted tax increases, with anti-tax money spent in all three.
      In one campaign, there was also a (secretly pro-library) book-burning promotion.
      In two campaigns, the tax-increase was rejected.
      In one campaign, the tax-increase was accepted.

      The campaign that was accepted was also the campaign featured the book-burning promotion.

      This is correlation, not causation.
      But a pretty good correlation

      Additional points of interest would be voter turn out [noting amount of “work we pro-library people did […] to get the people out to the polls” in all three campaigns], and margins of approval/rejection.

          1. Because I’ve found when I edit posts, the new images don’t appear because Disqus kinda sux. (see above edit to first post I just did to see case n’ point)

            And, it wasn’t my fail; It was a Disqus fail. ^-^

          2. I mean, why reply to the failed comment instead of to the earlier one? Then I could just take out the failed one.

  4. What I like about this, is that it demonstrates a tool that can be used to reframe the conversation after it has been hijacked.  
    The Tea Party hijacked the conversation in the first place and reframed it to be about Taxes Taxes Taxes and nothing more.  
    Simply take their idea further – as extreme as possible – and then promote THAT.
    Reframe the conversation back to what you want. 
    The Teabaggers are too simple-minded to react to something like this.
    This can work for many other campaigns.


  5. The local Tea Party spent a large sum of money opposing the measure

    I really, really don’t like tea baggers.

      1. Given they apparently want a stupid easily terrified and led around public that after a few fliers and leaflets and astroturf groups will do as they want rather than consider the issue at hand from more than one angle.

        This is what American politics has been reduced to folks and it shames me.

        1. Yep, the big players supply money, and with a group as hyper-reactive as the teaparty it’s just too easy to manipulate them into totally braindead campaigns.

          EG: the birther movement, death panels, claiming Obama’s a “secret muslim”, claiming all unions are run by gangsters, claiming that immunizations cause brain damage.

          Why would the teaparty want libraries? They allow for research and sharing knowledge. All the teaparty wants is to believe the sweet lies their billionaire backers tell it.

  6. So the local Tea Party spent a lot of money convincing people not to raise taxes to save the library.  Why didn’t they just donate the money to the library?

  7. The anti-library crowd aren’t hypocritical so much as mendacious; the goal being to close the library rather than suppress  taxation.  The fight we’re really having here is not and never has been about money, but about culture.  What these people want is a country of home and bible schooled people, easily driven to violance, praying for god to fix the roads.  I’ve spent enough time talking to theses people, and on some pre-concious level they really believe that roads and bridges are natural phenomenon.

  8. I’m very confused by the partisan responses here — a tax increase (for a reason I can appreciate) was proposed and made it to ballot.  Some people were proponents of the tax increase, and they spent money and time supporting it (perhaps in a strange way), and some people spent money and time opposing it.  Then, people voted and the majority was represented and appropriate action was taken.  What is the ‘I hate the people who oppose it because they’re bad/stupid/hypocrites/hicks’ narrative throughout the comments here?  Don’t we vote for a reason and isn’t everyone allowed to support their position?

  9. This kinda hit home for me because I used to live in Troy and loved the library there. It baffles me that it was even in danger of closing. I have literally stood outside of there with a crowd of people WAITING for it to open. It was surprisingly busy and very well run. Now I hope that continues for a long time to come.

  10. Keep in mind not only did the local tea party group work against the original library funding proposal they had 3 additional proposals put on the ballot that they _never_ _intended_to_support_.  They simply used it so that they could campaign against the cumulative amount of all 4 proposals despite the fact that three of the proposals were theirs.  They also used it to divide support among the different proposals and confuse the electorate.

    They are not just opponents of taxes, they actively subvert the democratic process in order to achieve their objectives.  It is one of the reasons the mayor may be recalled in November.  

  11. @boingboing-33267e5dc58fad346e92471c43fcccdc:disqus  “We tricked people to get what we wanted” is what 98% of marketing is, and we all fall for it, every day.

  12. Books are sometimes for burning: Rhonda Ayliffe bookworks (NOT ME, in case that is not clear)

    I’ve hatcheted, nailed to trees, buried under streams, exposed to the elements, soaked, painted over, nailed to boards, and burned books, as well.

    These things happen.

    Context is everything.

  13. I love this concept.  If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em… and make sure that all the other joiners understand exactly what they’ve joined up for. 

    It’s a lot harder to just say “Ditto!  Ditto!” when someone injects some actual reality into the picture.

    1. Reality? The whole thing was predicated on a lie. Nobody on either side of the issue was promoting the destruction of books or even the banning of books, but some folks took it upon themselves to deliver lies not only about the intent of the folks against raising (already high) taxes in a notably spendy (and irresponsibly so at that) city, but placed some of those Burn Books signs on the lawns of private citizens in order to make them personally look bad.

      But please, let’s talk some more about “reality.”

    2.  I’m so tired of the scroungers and spendthrifts who failed to plan and now rail against any kind of tax increase, no matter what it will do. 

      They are tone deaf and losing what little moderate support their ideas had.  After all, we can’t balance the Federal budget even if we stop spending money on military and welfare…revenue increases are required.

  14. I live in Troy.

    The thing about this, is that they didn’t really make a lot of noise about the whole thing being a hoax. This is the first I’ve seen anybody take credit for that whole business. Most rational people just wondered who was responsible.

    And immediately after the library was “saved” by increasing people’s taxes by a few hundred a year, (0.7% is a little bit of cash when taxes are really fucking high already) they immediately started talking about building a brand new library. Oh, I thought we were short on funds what happened???

    Meanwhile, everyone who just wanted the city to be more responsible with their funds instead of being fucking children gets painted as inbred backwards book burning witch hunters.

    On top of that, they’d go around neighborhoods and put those signs on people’s lawns if they had any signs supporting republican candidates, to make those people (the homeowners) look like assholes too.

    Honestly, there are too many people around here who just stomp around and get angry when they don’t get their way, and make a public issue about it. I’m no fan of the current mayor, but these consistent failed recall efforts are a perfect example. One group didn’t get the mayor they wanted, so whine, complain and “organize” in the hopes of recall.

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