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Library of Congress ad with Abraham Lincoln

In the PR biz, there is what is known as “earned” media — the kind where you work the phones and email in order to interest a reporter into covering your story. And then there is paid media, which, of course, are generally in the form of advertisements. Every once in a while, however, the two collide, in which the ads themselves become newsworthy, a combination that is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of marketing.

Such was the felicitous case yesterday for the Library of Congress on the front page of the Metro section of The Washington Post.

In support of our new Library of Congress Experience, opening April 12, we purchased a number of ads (all with private funds), with a heavy emphasis on the Metro system. We know that once people are in DC and they learn about what we’re all about, they are much more prone to visit.

The Post did a larger story about Metro’s new, “less staid” advertising approaches, giving our paid campaign a tremendous “earned” boost in the process. The story is here, and the print version featured not one, not two, but three gorgeous photos of Library ads.

The campaign concept is fairly simple: We use images of four historical figures (Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson and Marilyn Monroe), except that the images are composed entirely from fingerprints. The ad copy talks about how those individuals and many more across history and culture are represented in our collections — in the case of the more modern-day celebrities, perhaps in ways people weren’t aware of.

And then to emphasize the new interactive way in which our collections and exhibitions are being brought to life, we use the phrase “At Your Fingertips,” preceded by a word linked to each person: “Imagination” for Jefferson, “Integrity” for Lincoln,” “Courage” for Robinson and “Fame” for Monroe. The ad copy ends with the tagline: “Explore. Discover. Be inspired.”

On a related matter, the sneak preview video that I posted late on Friday is now almost laughably dated. I shot it a week ago today, and I was just in the Jefferson Building this morning. The progress even in the last seven days is dazzling. If I didn’t have “real” work to do, I’d probably go over and spend a few captivating hours of my day.

Hopefully all of the Library fans out there will consider doing just that, on or after April 12.

Comments (14)

  1. As a female Library of Congress employee, I am insulted that Marilyn Monroe was selected as one of the iconic images representing our national library.
    Yes, I know that she is symbolizing “fame” but the bottom line is: you put her face on Library of Congress advertising, you are linking her to the Library of Congress. Is she really the best female advertising choice for us? LOC houses papers of Susan B Anthony, Clara Barton, Margaret mead, Clare Booth Luce, Julia Ward Howe, and Sandra Day O’Connor–yet Marilyn Monroe is the woman we are holding up as our symbol and as a role model.

  2. Hi, Jennifer. I’m sorry you feel that way, and no disrespect was intended.

    To give you some background, our choices of the individual historical figures represented in this campaign involved several criteria:

    First, we wanted to demonstrate the breadth of the Library’s holdings – that is, the Library’s collections are not merely historical, but also cultural and universal in nature. All four figures (Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Jackie Robinson and Marilyn Monroe) are represented in the Library’s collections.

    Marilyn Monroe is represented mainly via copyright deposit, as well as in the Prints and Photographs collections. (The image of Ms. Monroe that we chose is itself derived from those collections.) We were particularly inspired to select her because we had recently discovered a rare home movie in the collections of Ms. Monroe playing golf. It also speaks to our larger effort to educate the public that the Library houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive audiovisual collection, and a state-of-the-art audiovisual conservation center to preserve our nation’s creativity in perpetuity.

    Second, we wanted the historical figures to be instantly recognizable, visually. We considered many other historical figures, both men and women, including some that you mentioned. In some cases, we ran into publicity-rights issues. In other cases, we found that other faces were not so easily recognizable.

    Third, we wanted to reflect as much diversity as we could attain within the confines of a limited series of materials.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly to the issue you raise, one reason we chose the “fingerprint” motif is because it is a very durable concept that will work with future endeavors and projects. We are indeed considering the addition of “new faces” to the mix, to further reflect the breadth and diversity of the Library’s collections and programs.

  3. Hey, Matt,

    You might want to check out a local DC blog, Prince of Petworth, that asks the question of your latest ad campaign, “Is This the Way We Honor One of Our Nation’s Greatest Presidents?“.

    Seems folks are having a hard time with the “walk on me” version of the ad at the Gallery Place Metro station (and elsewhere?) and would like to get some explanation.

  4. I was disappointed on so many levels that Marilyn Monroe was chosen for a LOC “iconic” figure. Might as well pay homage to Brittany Spears – oh, she hasn’t had an affair with a president yet.

  5. CH20010,

    One of the commenters over there said they might get an “official” response here. Even though I’m director of communications, we still mention by way of disclaimer that this blog isn’t an “official” communication from the Library.

    That being said, it’s clear there has been a range of opinion about that particular use of the Lincoln image. I was not aware ahead of time about all of the specific ways in which Metro would be placing the images. (For instance, I was surprised by the pillar “wrap-arounds.”) I thought it was still the traditional posters and banners of the past.

    It was clear from the Post article linked above that Metro is moving in some unique and new directions with how they place ads. In retrospect, I wish I would have found out about some of those approaches beforehand — or at least thought to ask all the right questions.

    But despite the issues people have raised, I hope it has had the overall intended effect of making people better aware of the broad variety of our collections and programs, and how the new Library of Congress Experience is an important way we’re trying to create new patrons and to make all Americans aware that this is “their” Library too.

  6. Amy,

    If we are able to continue with this same creative approach — “Knowledge At Your Fingertips” — I can guarantee we will be incorporating more women from various backgrounds and disciplines into the mix. I think it’s safe to assume, all joking aside, that Britney Spears will not be one of them.

  7. I’d love to purchase a copy of the Marilyn Monroe image, in either print or electronic form… Is there a way I can do so from either the LoC, or the creator of the ads?

  8. The females that are protesting the Marilyn Monroe feature at the LOC need to lighten up.

  9. I was wondering who the artist/graphic designer was who created the images for these posters?

  10. Laura, I don’t know who the specific person was, but we worked with a firm called huey+partners.

  11. Great post, I voted for it on Digg

  12. I was wondering who the artist/graphic designer was who created the images for these posters?

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