In February 2010, the city of Troy, Michigan was forced to make personnel and city services cuts due to a struggling economy and a 20% loss in city revenue due to the drop in property values. The public library was among the city services that would get cut if a tax increase for additional operating funds didn’t pass.
The tax increase didn’t pass in February 2010- there was no organized group defending the library, and a highly-organized anti-tax group, Troy Citizens United rallied against the proposed tax increase. The city then proposed a library-only tax increase in the fall of 2010- the Troy Library would need a minuscule 0.7% tax increase to continue to operate.
Troy Citizens United campaigned again against the tax increase, and again, the tax increase didn’t pass. The library was scheduled to close in the spring of 2011, but supporters of the library rallied to try one last time to pass the tax increase. It was June 2011, and in the face of two losses, a scheduled vote on August 2, and the library set to close on August 5th, the Troy Library needed something drastic to keep it alive.
Leo Burnett Detroit decided to try and help (anonymously) save the Troy Library; with only a budget of $3,500 and six weeks to turn around the anti-tax sentiment in the city, they faced an uphill battle. The agency campaigned to save the library by pretending to want to destroy the books in the library; agency staff posed as a fake political group, Safeguarding American Families (SAFe) and distributed yard signs around the city of Troy with the message ‘Vote To Close Troy Library On Aug.2- Book Burning Party On Aug.5.’ People were so enraged by the idea of a book burning party that they went in droves to the Facebook.com/BookBurningParty page to tell SAFe that they were ‘sick’ and ‘disgusting’ and to vote YES to saving the Troy Library.
The campaign relied heavily on the power of social media, posting rage inciting videos of burning books on Facebook and Twitter, creating ‘check-ins’ to the Book Burning Party, and even posting announcements about the band for the party and who to contact for a babysitter for the big day. The group created merchandise, posted ads for a clown and ice cream vendor for the party, and even created Facebook polls about which books to save from the burning.
The campaign was so audacious, local, national, and international news organization and TV stations devoted coverage to the Book Burning Party campaign, all while solidifying the citizens of Troy in favor of saving the library– and to passing the tax-increase.
Finally, on July 11th, Leo Burnett dropped the hoax and revealed the true meaning of the campaign- ‘A Vote Against The Library Is Like A Vote To Burn Books.’ And on August 2nd, voters came out in unprecedented levels- 324% more voters than expected came to the polls, with the overwhelming majority voting ‘yes’ to the tax-increase.
Leo Burnett was able to change the conversation around the vote from taxes to the importance of a town library, framing the vote in such a powerful way city members couldn’t help but realize the magnitude of what they’d have to give up if the tax increase failed.
Watch a video of the campaign below: