A long-running partnership, a tight design brief, a savvy media agency and close adherence to the book’s ethos were all key to delivering the recent, jaw-dropping On Tyranny campaign, which saw an entire book plastered around east London’s Old Street roundabout.
In a campaign covered everywhere from the Guardian to Electric Literature to Creative Review, Vintage delivered what appears to be an industry first in printing the 20 short, punchy chapters of Timothy Snyder’s newest book, a polemic on how to resist tyranny, onto the east London site. From pitch to print deadline, the process took six weeks. “This is a reactive book to a current situation. It doesn’t make you feel better, but it does make you feel less helpless,” said Vintage creative manager Will Smith. “Because the book was brief and accessible, we thought, ‘How do we follow this through to its logical conclusion with the marketing?’ We wanted to put it up there as a tool, a provocation and a rallying call. The sense of urgency about the book gave us a sense of urgency about how to market it.’”
Smith took the concept to Jack Arts, an agency with whom Vintage has a longstanding relationship: its work with Faber on Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers garnered much attention last year. Kirsty Jones, senior accounts manager at Jack Arts said: “We were keen to utilise one of our most popular street-level sites, in bustling Old Street, to display [the posters]. The intention was to make the most of the beautiful poster design, right in the heart of London’s creative community.”
Asked if there was a fear of “giving away” the book, Smith replied that there are always concerns when publishers give away content, but that the capacity for word of mouth enabled by posting the text in one of London’s most Instagram-savvy locales far outweighed that. The rationale seems justified: sales quadrupled week on week.
Passers-by admire the On Tyranny posters in east London. Picture: Hui-Yu
To realise the creative, Vintage called on the students of the Kingston University Graphics course, with which it has run the Kingston Animation prize for several years. Every year students are invited to script and create short, animated films based on a book or series selected by Vintage, with the winners and runners-up receiving both cash and kudos. For the On Tyranny campaign, Vintage creative director Suzanne Dean briefed the students, who were divided into groups of three or four and given a chapter each. According to Dean, they were all given “a set colour palette of a dark red, black and white, which matched the colours used on the book cover. At the base of each poster I set the author, title and #ontyranny in the same font, as used on the cover. The designers were given creative freedom [in terms of replicating] the title and first paragraph on the posters, while the body copy of each chapter was standardised,” Dean says. “Each designer was given rules to follow, but enough free rein to make the poster their own. Each poster certainly has its own visual character, but they work beautifully as a set.”
The exchange is a win-win for both partners: students get the experience of producing commissions for a major publisher and an addition to their portfolio, and Vintage gets 20 original designs in a fraction of the time (and cost) it would need to do them in-house. Smith concluded: “It’s a nice instance of a book and its marketing activity just really suiting each other. You can see it’s been influenced by propaganda, graffiti, pamphleteers—formats with a long tradition of nailing your colours to the mast.”