Kobo Plus, for those who prefer erotic fiction over historical biographies

Who: Kobo, with The Garden for strategy and creative; Someplace Nice for production (directed by Peter Henderson); Rooster and The Vanity for post-production; Berkeley Inc. for audio, and Cairns Oneil for media.

What: “Be a reader, not a follower,” an advertising campaign for the Rakuten-owned e-reader’s Kobo Plus subscription offering that celebrates those who enjoy indulgent—usually quick—reads.

When & Where: The campaign launched last month, running until early September on TV, online video, digital and out-of-home.

Why: Kobo launched its all-you-can-read Plus subscription service for $9.99 a month at the height of the pandemic, in July 2020. While the service offers access to hundreds of thousands of books, it does not include every title in the larger Kobo catalogue.

That means some of the best-sellers and critic’s choice books aren’t there, although those titles don’t appeal to everyone.

Kobo and The Garden wanted to fight back against “book shaming” and connect with people who enjoy guilty-pleasure reads like paperback murder mysteries, erotic fiction, or maybe stories about the paranormal, over high-brow fiction and heavy historical biographies.

Kobo Plus doesn’t have the trendiest titles, but is perfect for those customers, and “Be a reader, not a follower,” was intended to resonate with them.

“We were able to completely reframe our challenge and actually turn it into a real strength,” said Lindsay Gray, Kobo’s director of brand and product marketing, in a release.

How: The creative leans into the idea that people who love page-turners should be proud of it. The anchor TV spot features a woman who’s reading Bree Dahlia’s 2017 Love, Luck and Clusterf*ck, and isn’t embarrassed by it in the slightest. But each time she goes to tell someone about the book, the NSFW title gets “censored” by noise around her—a coffee grinder, a hair dryer and a jackhammer—as if the reader should be embarrassed by the title.

When she’s once again drowned out by a school bell, she screams out the expletive in the title to shocked parents (and an amused child). “Whatever e-books you’re into, read them all for $9.99 a month,” explains a voiceover to close the spot.

Out-of-home and digital ads strike a similar playful tone, reminding all those who love crime novels and books about exorcism that there’s nothing wrong with them. “So what if you cozy up with criminals?” says one, and “Who says whips and chains can’t be part of your commute?” says another.

And we quote: “Up against the vast resources of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, we needed to stand out not just as an ebook subscription service, but for what Kobo Plus could really own—binge-worthy, guilty-pleasure paperbacks,” said Jenn Munoz, strategy director, The Garden. “We wanted to celebrate the readers who read for the love of it, not for the clout.”

David Brown