Overview of this campaignMovie studio advertiser 20th Century Fox was eager to garner word-of-mouth buzz for its upcoming film release “The Book Thief” and its timeless message about literacy and knowledge, both fundamental cornerstones to civilized society.
The movie’s premise concerns pre-World War II Europe, where the Nazis were gathering books from libraries, churches and schools and burning them in an effort to stunt the flow of information and positions that posed any opposition to the party. The film’s star, Geoffrey Rush, and his adopted daughter set out on a complex and deliberate path to steal as many books for safekeeping and future generations. During this dark period of history in a low-tech world, no one knew what would survive the plundering by the regime, and all means were taken to safeguard knowledge in the form of the printed word.
The New York Times’s advertising team met with the studio’s marketing head in early October to brainstorm breakthrough ideas that would effectively convey the film’s important message. Together they came up with an ingenious pre-opening buzz marketing campaign to tease the November 8 opening of “The Book Thief.”
Results for this campaignReaders of The New York Times may have been forgiven for thinking there was a printing mistake in their copies of the October 23, 2013, newspaper. Pages A9 and A10 were completely blank!
In reality, this was not a mistake — far from it. Rather, it was two advertising pages deliberately devoid of copy or art, meant to starkly and meaningfully convey what a world without words would be like.
Fox executives believed that a message of this sort would resonate strongly in The New York Times. In fact, they felt it was the only news brand with sufficient journalistic credibility and social standing to make this message meaningful. No other national or local newspaper could convey the impact of a world without words and ideas as effectively as The New York Times. As Fox E.V.P.-Media Julie Rieger said, “There are only few things so powerful.”
Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and the newspaper’s advertising standards department agreed to let the advertiser run two blank pages with nothing but a dateline at the top of the page and the page number itself — the first time in The New York Times’s 162-year history that blank advertising pages were deliberately allowed to run to specifically tell a story. The only messaging on the two blank pages appeared at the bottom of the second page, where the URL http://www.wordsarelife.com appeared. The URL linked to the movie’s trailer and a special message from actress Sophie Nélisse, the film’s young protagonist, who proclaimed, “Without words, life is nothing but a blank page.”
The advertisement generated extensive social media chatter and press from outlets including Advertising Age, Variety, The Huffington Post and Business Insider. The latter wrote: “The ad’s success is the latest example of how brands are using ‘mysterious old media’ in the physical world to multiply the number of people who see their ads through online buzz created by social media and online news outlets.”