Start Driving Behaviour Change by Meshing Digital with the Real-World

While it’s common nowadays for brands to reach out to audiences digitally, it may receive better effects with the help of an offline activation. The opportunity to interact with people and brand in the real world can be more attractive and authentic to the audience due to its personal and direct nature, especially with the lure of celebrities.

Also, driving change in the public’s behavior, can be tough (if not nearly impossible) by shouting your messages out alone. The recent book-sharing campaigns that have caused a sensation in the UK, US and China, shone a spotlight on public reading habits and caught our attention. So we decided to have a closer look at the effect of these advocacy campaigns. Hopefully, this will provide you with some inspiration on meshing digital with the real world, and how campaigns become incredibly powerful when a celebrity with an activated audience can really take an idea to the next level.


Books on the Underground invited Emma Watson to join its book sharing movement
On Nov 1, 2016, Emma Watson became a one-day “book fairy”, leaving copies of Maya Angelou’s book on the London Underground. It immediately created online buzz and triggered massive reaction to search for the books. The partnership between Emma and Books on the Underground/Books on the Subway: to hide 100 copies of Mom & Me & Mom, the November’s pick of Emma’s feminist book club Our Shared Shelf with her hand-written notes inside. Across London and New York’s subway system was this novel, which encouraged reading by spreading awareness of each book’s hidden potential waiting to be discovered by a lucky commuter.

The celebrity effect can be huge as long as you choose the right person. In this case, a well-educated actress and active philanthropist + a book sharing movement = perfect match = win-win. Both Emma and the organizers successfully drove social buzz with the activation. Emma’s single tweet about the book sharing movement got over 280K interactions, ranking at the peak among her 21 original tweets during the past three months (Sep-Nov 2016). The average interactions of her 21 posts are: 722 replies, 10.6K retweets and 37.6K likes. Two posts from Books on the Underground, which were retweeted by Emma got 100 times more reaction than the organization’s other posts. The public also engaged with the organizers by sharing their ideas on social media. The possibility of ‘winning’ one of Emma’s books and as such, having a direct and personal brush with fame was hugely appealing – and shareable.


Updated book-sharing campaign received mixed responses in China
The Emma fever inspired The Fair, a Chinese content production firm, who got the permission from Books on the Underground to apply the book-sharing idea in China. In comparison to the British predecessor, The Fair’s “book-dropping battle” campaign (started on Nov.15, 2016) has unrolled on a much larger scale: collaborating with more celebrities, influencers and getting sponsorship of several large publishers to share more than 10,000 different books on the subway, taxis, and planes in major cities starting from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.


It’s difficult to find a single super idol in China like Emma (23.4M followers on Twitter) with all the merits perfectly matching this campaign; so to ensure a strong calling and enormous impacts on public, The Fair tried to gather the influence of a group of celebrities. The leading celebrities participating in the campaign included Xu Jinglei (2.5M followers on Sina Weibo), an intellectual actress-turned-director who is famous for her writing and blogs; Huang Xiaoming (50.7M followers on Sina Weibo), a well-known actor who was honored as the “Most Influential Charity Celebrity” of China Philanthropy List in 2016, and KOLs such as Chen Luyu, “Chinese Oprah” with Phoenix TV; Luo Yonghao, CEO of tech startup Smartisan, etc. The campaign immediately caught the attention from the media and public thanks to celebrities’ endorsement. While Emma has a specific mission to spread awareness of feminism, the Chinese celebrities’ role in this movement is more general, to share good reading tastes, good content, and encourage reading among the public.


As a media savvy company, the Fair took a step further by developing a dedicated website and online system to track the route of the book and connect the people. By scanning the QR code inside the book, people who picked up the book will be registered into the book tracking system which allows them to leave messages and share photos, so you can see who picked up the book, when and where, as well as the messages from previous book owners. The Fair also encouraged the public to be the donors and share their own books. It prepared 10,000 “Tool Kits” (include two stickers of logo, one sticker of QR code, one guide book and one note paper) for people who want to participate in the book dropping campaign. They can submit the book title and apply the tool kits on the WeChat platform (after following The Fair’s Wechat account) and the website.


Similarly, the offline campaign stimulated lively online discussion. The promotional article The Fair posted on its WeChat platform received over 100K view and 8.8K comments (once an article reaches 100K view, the WeChat platform will not show the exact number of view). However, instead of the overall praise Emma won, the Chinese citizens’ responses to the campaign were mixed, with several opposing points of view.

The naysayers questioned the effect of the campaign to truly encourage reading. Photos of discarded books went viral online, and the Metro urged passengers not to participate during peak hours so as not to affect commuters. The potential undercurrent of business also made many netizens criticise the motives behind the book-sharing drive was an eye-grabbing marketing plot of The Fair, the celebrities and the sponsors, and stars who don’t read books regularly themselves cannot set as a good example.

However, the advocates appreciated the organizer’s strong execution capability. Some argued, “Just because Chinese people don’t read regularly, it doesn’t mean that we should do nothing to encourage reading.” Others adopted a more rational and tolerant attitude towards the campaign.


Heat is still coming off and the public discourse never really stops.

Facing all the praise, skepticism or critiques, The Fair seemed to keep an open and receptive mind and have the determination and patience to make this campaign a long-term project rather than a one-off event. The campaign didn’t stop after celebrities’ event (celebrities later adopted the strategy of “Ice Bucket Challenge”); instead it continued and grew with more citizens joining in.

Putting aside the mixed voices, let’s look at the story numbers tell. According to The Fair, 10,000 QR codes available for book donors were snatched up in 5 hours. Within the first two days of the campaign, over 3,000 people (which is 30% of the book dropped) registered in the book dropping system and 298 organizations/institutions contacted them expressing the desire to be the local co-organizers of this campaign. As of Dec 16th, there are over 24,000 books “drifting” around the country, increasing 140% of the book amount in one month. On Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter), the campaign got over 220 million visibility and 175,000 discussion.


Live Broadcast of Book Dropping Campaign

Though the success of its ambitious goal to change citizens’ reading habits is hard to measure at this time, the campaign undoubtedly arouse thinking and hot discussion among the Chinese public, from ordinary people, to key opinion leaders, to authorities. And it helped the young company gain more publicity and business opportunities, regardless of the public sentiment and such value is much more than the costs of 10,000 books.

In this campaign, both organizers in UK and China showed a very productive use of the power of celebrity to kick off the event and the social media to engage the crowd and build excitement. Social media also also become a place to demonstrate how massive and success their campaigns are to the world. By releasing positive information, public feedback and interviews, the organizers were able to strengthen their brands. Also, by tracking the social voices they quickly reacted to the negative comments, adjusted tactics to adapt to public demands and learned lessons from audience and stakeholders’ opinions for future campaigns.

Maybe it’s time to provide your audience with a sense of “real” participation, both online and offline; as well as a sense of connection, with people and with your brand. If you need insights from social world to help improve your campaigns or business, feel free to contact us:


Crystal Wang