The Library of Congress is launching a series of public service advertisements produced by The Advertising Council Inc. and ad agency DDB Chicago to prompt adult Americans to learn more about U.S. history at its Web site.
The pro bono campaign comprises radio and television spots that use humor to encourage visits to www.loc.gov, a site that lists 8 million out of the 125 million items on 530 miles of bookshelves in the world's largest library.
“It brings a dry subject matter to life,” said Priscilla Natkins, executive vice president of campaign management at the New York-based Ad Council. “History is something you can have fun with, and here's an engaging way to do that.”
The nonprofit Ad Council and DDB Chicago began making spots for the library in May 2000. The goal then was to drive people to the library's family-oriented site, americaslibrary.gov. It was meant to commemorate the library's bicentennial, receiving more than 250 million visits and $123 million in donated media.
As with past efforts, the Ad Council is looking for TV and radio media to step up to the plate for this adult-focused push. The spots are being distributed to more than 12,000 media outlets nationwide for airing in donated advertising time.
“Every network would be appropriate since it's such a broad effort,” Natkins said. “It's not merely The History Channel or Discovery. We're looking for a broad range of support.”
The spots show ordinary people using esoteric historical knowledge in a humorous manner.
A 60-second TV spot called “Cold” opens with Ed Bafundo, a newly appointed company president, amusing himself by playing with cellophane tape. His secretary calls to remind him about a meeting. Ed goes into the meeting. As he is greeted with applause, he sneezes.
Chuckling, a company executive speaks up: “Whooo. That reminds me of President William Henry Harrison. Ninth president. Caught cold on Inauguration Day. Thirty-one days later? Boom! Dead! Completely dead.” He chuckles, adding, “Six feet under.”
There is silence in the room as he continues chuckling. The voiceover says, “It's fun to know history. Find curious facts from America's past at LOC.gov, the Library of Congress Web site.”
The other two TV spots, in the same humorous vein, are 30 seconds.
“Gurney” shows a doctor chuckling as a patient is being wheeled on a gurney in a hospital. The doctor says, “You're lucky, young fella. You know, hospitals didn't even use ether for your procedure 'til about 1846. Yeah, slap on a few live leeches. Grab a hacksaw. And … get to work!”
He smiles and adds, “Course … we don't use leeches anymore.”
The man on the gurney is silent. A voiceover pipes up with the same tag line as the 60-second spot.
The other 30-second spot, also in a 20-second variant, is “Delivery Guy.” A pizza deliveryman is looking for the right home. The customer beckons him from a window, “Over here.” He walks across a lawn with the sprinklers on and rings the doorbell.
A portly, bespectacled man opens the door and says, “Did you know the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound was Chuck Yeager … back in 1947?”
“Uh … no,” the deliveryman says.
“Didn't think so,” the customer says as he hands over the cash.
All three TV spots ask people to visit LOC.gov. The penultimate screenshot focuses on the features of the site — historical, film, photos, facts, fun.
Four radio spots, two 60 seconds and two 30 seconds, support with the same message.
The library is particularly interested in having visitors click on the “Wise Guide” section of the site, created in October, containing selected material from the archives.
“So if you've seen the ad, you'll know the connection,” said Guy Lamolinara, special assistant to the associate librarian for strategic initiatives in the library in Washington. “The reason we've developed this [Wise Guide] Web site is to be a portal to the LOC.gov site. We've found that many first-time users of LOC.gov find a lot of links on our site and are not sure what to do.”
LOC.gov receives 1 billion hits yearly. But do not ask for more details.
“We're not allowed to track statistics of who uses the site,” Lamolinara said. “Because being a federal agency, we're not supposed to be tracking specific users. But we know, in general, the kinds of people who use our site — teachers, students, researchers and the general public.”