The Milwaukee Public Library Hijacked Brand Logos Like YouTube, Netflix and Spotify to Promote Itself

Co-opting branding has increased library usage

BVK revamped iconic brand logos for the Milwaukee Public Library. Milwaukee Public Library
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Your local library can provide you with free information and resources that match that of brands like YouTube, Spotify, Netflix and more. The difference? Your subscription is free.

At least, that’s the point the Milwaukee Public Library tried to make earlier this fall when it hijacked those brands’ logos. In an effort to get locals to reconsider the library and what it could do for them, the Milwaukee Public Library and creative shop BVK revamped brand logos. Then it created print work with copy touting the library’s similar offerings to the brand in question and posted the work at local restaurants and bars. The result? It worked.

Following the campaign, patrons’ database usage went up (57 percent), ebook checkouts went up (50 percent), audiobook downloads went up (26 percent), digital downloads went up (18 percent), new card registration went up (53 percent) and card renewals increased (12 percent). According to the library, three out of every four Milwaukee residents have library cards.

“Public libraries are seeing lots of funding cuts and that’s driving declines in patron count and circulation,” said Eileen Force Cahill, community relations and engagement director at Milwaukee Public Library. “What we have really worked to do is reintroduce ourselves to the community. You think about a library and it’s an enduring institution that’s been around for hundreds of years. But the reason that it endures is that it evolves.”

Cahill continued: “People always think of the library as books in and books out but we’re seeing that patrons now are using the library in different ways. You can engage with the library without ever leaving your house. You can engage with us online. We have all these databases that you can access online. You can use for free. You can download magazines. Just as the campaign shows, anything you can do through Netflix, LinkedIn or other popular databases you can use through the library for free.”

The campaign, deemed “See Us Differently,” also co-opted logos of companies like Amazon, Google and LinkedIn.

“A lot of the times when you see advertising kind of reference advertising it can be gimmicky,” said Brian Ganther, co-executive creative director at BVK. “What we thought was cool—and non-gimmicky about this approach—is that a lot of times you see this tension between books versus digital. The world isn’t that way anymore. A library is simply about access to knowledge and the most modern access to knowledge today is through these digital platforms.”

Ganther added: “There’s power in these brands; there’s power in the library. Bringing those two things together in a way that maybe people weren’t aware of before was really the intent. As far as the design process goes, it isn’t that hard when you’re hijacking someone else’s logo.”

See the work below:

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.