Exercise Your Mind

Library of Congress’ Campaign Seeks to Build ‘History Buffs’

Posted February 21, 2003 at 1:08pm

Men who recite random facts about American history can really make a woman go wild.

At least that’s the impression from a new line of public service radio ads from the Ad Council that aim to promote the Library of Congress Web site as a resourceful tool for learning history.

In one of the 30-second radio advertisements now being played over the airwaves, a young female voice is heard saying:

“Wow, Peter is so buff now — so history buff. Been working out at loc.gov … Guess that explains why he’s been picking up more than historical dates.”

The humorous radio and TV ads were put together pro bono by advertising agency DDB Chicago. The only cost to the library is about $500,000 a year, which covers the direct production of the ads by DDB Chicago. Money was raised for the library by the Madison Council Fund, headed up by President John Kluge. The amount also includes a fee to the Ad Council for distribution of the radio and television spots.

Both show instances where people incorporate historical facts into comical situations.

In one of the television ads, for example, a doctor is wheeling a patient into the emergency room and starts talking about the way doctors used to treat patients in 1846 — “slap on a few live leeches, grab a hacksaw and get to work.” The bedridden patient is in complete silence after this remark and doesn’t appear very happy about this historical flashback.

“We’re all aware that Americans are lacking knowledge of American history,” said Hollis Calhoun, campaign manager from the Ad Council. “People seem to think of history as so boring and mundane. These ads put such a funny twist on it.”

Even though the Ad Council and the Library of Congress worked together in 2000 for a similar campaign, the new ads are different because they only target adults to visit the library’s Web site, www.loc.gov.

“We hope they will communicate the message that knowing history is interesting and educational, but can also be fun,” said Library spokeswoman Jill Brett, adding that the advertising agency put a great spin on the topic.

“This is a wonderful idea since the Library of Congress is the greatest repository in the world for information and knowledge,” said Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), chairman of the Joint Library Committee. “It’s time the American public realizes this and starts accessing it.”

Ehlers added that he is happy the program is accessible for those Americans who want to know more about their country and its past.

The previous advertising campaign received more than $150 million in donated media time. Library officials say they expect the new campaign to garner even more attention.

The ads, which were provided to more than 12,000 media outlets last month, will air on time that is donated by media, like all other public service advertisements from the private, nonprofit Ad Council organization.

“It’s quite a good return,” said Brett, referring to the $500,000 cost a year in comparison to the $50 million in donated media.