Equal to the ambitious scope of Yuval Noah Harari’s latest offering, the PR and marketing campaign for 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is engaging everyone from the A-list to urban creatives and readers of women’s glossies. It’s being implemented by Vintage creative manager Will Smith, Vintage campaigns manager Helen Flood, Jonathan Cape publicity director Joe Pickering and Riot Communications associate director Caitlin Allen in the hope of breaking new ground with Harari’s broadest and most appealing work to date.
"We’re going really big on this campaign," says Smith, in a sentiment that quickly becomes apparent. Vintage is launching the book with a how to: Academy event featuring the smart-thinking guru Harari in conversation with actor Natalie Portman in front of more than 2,300 people. Meanwhile, leading on consistently slick design and strong copy across advertising formats, it is embarking on creative partnerships with WeTransfer and Spotify, in a first for the imprint, while covering all of the bases with a London Underground campaign, a liberal supply of proofs and ample point-of-sale material for booksellers to "create their own theatre about it" in store. Building on the success of runaway bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus, which questioned the past and imagined the future, in his latest outing Harari turns his attention to the present, exploring "the most urgent questions facing every human being".
Addressing the perils of climate change, the threat of nuclear war, the epidemic of fake news and the menace of terrorism, Allen calls the book "the most urgent Yuval has written". Smith emphasised its accessibility and "almost listicle-style approach" as having a "democratising" effect, and both stress their aim is to create as wide a readership as possible, targeting audiences both niche and main-stream. "We’re very much trying to reach new audiences," says Allen, whose approach to media coverage has yielded a breadth of features, ranging from Harari writing about Brexit for the Guardian, to him being profiled in women’s magazines Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar.
"We wanted to work with all of the media outlets you might expect for a big non-fiction book like this, but we were also keen to go beyond this, embracing a lot of lifestyle media too—places like Psychologies and Wired," Allen says. "Big thinking non-fiction titles tend to get less coverage in women’s lifestyle press, but there’s no reason why this book should be ‘gendered’ [aimed solely at a male readership] at all."
Allen, whose agency also contributed to Vintage’s campaigns for Sapiens and Homo Deus, has orchestrated three major events for Harari’s UK visit on 27th–28th September: a press conference; the how to: Academy event; and, with the aim of engaging younger audiences, a schools event for pupils aged 16–18. Each is expected to attract "significant" news coverage. "We are really happy to have Natalie, who will open the book up to new audiences. Obviously she has a very different fanbase to Yuval, but she’s concerned by the same issues as him, so it’s in fact a really natural partnership," she says. "We all knew it was a long shot, but we wanted to think big... And it’s happening! Sometimes you might miss opportunities because you think, ‘Oh it will never happen.’ But actually it’s worth going for it, because you never know."
Eyes on the prize
On the marketing side, making the most of the jacket’s "simple and iconic" imagery (the iris of an eye, painted by artist Marc Quinn) masterminded by Vintage’s creative director Suzanne Dean, Smith has organised a partnership with the Open City Documentary Festival and booked a big advertising campaign with file-transfer site WeTransfer to reach young urbanites and creatives involved in the media industries. "I’ve always been attracted to WeTransfer’s site because its adverts are beautifully designed," he says. "It’s also probably the largest advertising format you can buy online, because it’s an entire screen. I don’t think anything else has the same ‘billboard’ factor as WeTransfer."
Playing to the boom in audiobooks and podcasting, the campaign also has a large audio aspect. Vintage will advertise with Spotify for the first time, as well as with podcasting network A-Cast. "This audience has seemingly sprung out of nowhere, with a huge appetite for big ideas. They’re used to hearing about those through audio, so that’s how we wanted to reach them," says Smith.
He adds: "A big high-profile book can mean people tip-toe around and don’t take risks. But we see it as a great opportunity to test new ground." However, as well as targeting smart-thinking and creative markets, Vintage isn’t shying away from traditional PR and marketing to capitalise on the book’s broad appeal. It is running a London Underground campaign "to make a big splash" and a thorough social media campaign "cherry-picking lines and making sure there’s always something fresh". While keen to achieve a strong first-week chart position through pre-orders, it is also intent on supporting the high street with point-of-sale, and refusing to be stingy with proofs, knowing readers of Harari’s work frequently "turn into evangelists and do so much of our job for us."
Smith says: "It’s that thing where, if you feel you have a book where the proof is in the reading, then the key is getting that book in front of as many people as possible, and not holding back."