In this battle between David and Goliath, mom and pop bookstores wrapped themselves in the familiar brown box from Amazon as a protest against the retail giant and as a request to shop locally.
The Instagram-ready stunt of Amazon-like boxes littered with sick literary burns and topical sayings was made available by DCX Growth Accelerator, a Brooklyn-based agency known for projects like Palessi, a fake Italian boutique, who sold $ 20 payless shoes to fashion influencers; and Jesse’s Deli, a bodega that got a ridiculous hipster makeover as an anti-gentrification statement.
Company executives who worked with the nonprofit American Booksellers Association on the #BoxedOut campaign said they are motivated by developing programs that side with the underdog and highlight a societal pain point.
Doug Cameron, Chief Strategy and Creative Officer, and Tommy Noonan, Executive Creative Director, spoke to Adweek when the program aimed to draw on their MacGyver-like skills, find their populist voice, and perform their version of cultural Jujitsu.
Adweek: Explain the goals of this American Booksellers Association event that started this week and how it affects your agency’s personality.
Doug Cameron: Tommy and I have been creative partners for about 17 years and this is becoming our specialty. We hold on to these cultural tensions and dramatize them in a humorous way, regardless of whether it’s about fashion influencers and materialism or about a bodega that is priced out of the neighborhood. We look at a cultural topic and unpack it.
How did you approach the program with the ABA?
Cameron: We thought about how ubiquitous those Amazon boxes are – they’re in the lobbies of your buildings on your neighbor’s porch. We wanted to say, “This is what’s going on with small businesses and indie bookstores because this box shows up on your doorstep.” We hope no one will ever see these boxes like this again.
Was there lightning-fast processing and a lot of multitasking?
Tommy Noonan: We came up with the final idea on September 23rd and got into production within a week and a half. We tried to get production companies on board, but the schedule was too quick. So we pulled it internally and worked with a few printers across the country.
Cameron: It was the same with Payless. We just took it over and did it ourselves, which meant we had to think through every single detail. Tommy came up with a new word – proactivator – because we care about the ideas and activations. We like to experiment and work with our hands. We decided to accept that. It brings the whole agency together.
Tommy, since your boots were on the floor for the stunt installation in New York, tell us what happened.
Noonan: I’ve been to Greenlight [Bookstore] and community [Bookstore] first thing this morning. [Then I was] Filling sandbags to hold displays in front of Cafe con Libros in Brooklyn. And by the time we were here, at least 12 or 14 wheelbarrows full of Amazon crates must have driven past us. It’s part of the landscape so let’s take note of that.
How did you find the right tone on the creative side and decide where to draw the line?
Cameron: Bookstore fans are a savvy, intellectual group, and the customer urged us to do it, with a little wink and an ironic approach. What we learned from things like Jesse’s Deli is that you need to speak with a populist voice within the subculture you represent. And pay close attention to the humor and graphics. Being brave was extremely important to the success of the project.