A Literacy Interpretation

Posted July 8, 2015, under Spokescritters

There is another way that books are advertised besides plastering their covers everywhere: the more general American Library Association “READ” campaign.

It started in 1985, and has continued without pause since. The conceit is simple: Ask a celebrity to donate their time and likeness, let them pick a book (that they didn’t write), and slap a big title on it. They’ve kept it up 30 years, a deeply impressive length of time for any ad campaign.We weren’t able to find statistics on the campaign’s efficacy — but anyone who has been in a school or library in the past 30 years has seen these posters, and probably been impressed on some level that they got that person for their poster. We probably don’t even need to show you pictures — you know the posters. But we’re going to anyway.* Sources for these images include Bookriot.com and ALA.org.

Now of course it’s easy enough to include superheroes — all you need is an artist to do a drawing (plus licensing agreements).

But what about getting one of the actors who plays a superhero?

Seriously, this campaign has everyone.

Early participants include Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Harrison Ford, and Bill Gates.

Diversity is a huge part of the campaign. As spelled out in the ALA Fact Sheet for the campaign: “They try to find highly recognizable personalities across all ethnic and cultural backgrounds to reach the diverse populations libraries serve.”

That’s how you get Stephen Hawking, the Muppets, LL Cool J, and Eva Mendes to all be part of the same campaign.

Of course, any long-running campaign will yet have vagaries.

From the sublime (Rachael McAdams, Keira Knightley, Lily Collins)…

…to the ridiculous (but no less awesome): Nic Cage, Coolio, Weird Al Yankovic.

Bonus fun fact! Lily Collins was actually kind of keeping up a tradition. Her father, famed singer Phil Collins, was one of the earliest contributors to the campaign.

Naturally, you can’t have a campaign about literacy without including the most recognizable faces from the most successful Young Adult series in history.

Where they really get kudos is, not one of the actors used a Harry Potter book. Because, yeah, some of these posters do double duty, shilling a movie. We’re looking at you, Rachael and Keira.

The Posters Go on Forever, But We Don’t Have to

Not only do the ALA put out posters regularly, they also license the format to community libraries, schools, and the like, so the campaign can include local celebrities. This has predictably mixed results in execution, but when the message is literacy and encouraging broad literary consumption — well, we can’t bring ourselves to mind.

Sometimes a simple idea, repeated over the course of years (or decades), works best. It helps when you have something truly excellent to promote.


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