A Brief History of Great Penguin Books Ad Campaigns


It’s no secret that, here at Flavorpill, we’re big fans of literature and design — so we get pretty excited when we see them combined in new and aesthetically pleasing ways. Thanks to Street Anatomy, we came across Penguin’s new campaign for kids’ classic audiobooks, and we are smitten. What we love most about the advertisements is how they combine the monochromatic, detail-oriented illustration style of anatomical drawings with the pastel colors and fantasy of children’s literature. Now that we think about it, Penguin is responsible for some of our favorite ads ever. After the jump, check out our brief history of Penguin campaigns that would make even Don Draper smile.

“There’s Life in a Book”

Agency: Y&R Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, 2007

For their “There’s Life in a Book” campaign, Penguin dreamed up personified punctuation marks that are more entertaining (and raunchy) than some people we know. In the ads, parentheses are sexually suggestive, the “I’s” in “ill” are flirty, and the letter “V” is a hopeless romantic. For those who complain that language is devastatingly boring and inanimate, Penguin offers a lusty, witty rejoinder.

“The Whole Story”

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, Malaysia, 2008

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, in Penguin’s 2008 campaign in Malaysia, the only information we get to explain each striking image is a page number. Each of the advertisements in this particular campaign is focused on telling a story — how a woman’s contorted body ended up at the foot of her stairs, what happens when a teenage boy gets caught by his lover’s father mid-fondle, why a mysterious figure is slumped on the floor of a hospital room. Instead of revealing any details photographically, the images provide page ranges that take the viewer through the various stages of the narrative. Little white numbers hover every step of the characters’ journeys, tempting and tantalizing us.

[Image via Yatzer]

“Escape Into a Book…”

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, Singapore, 2009

In today’s fast-paced society, many claim that the act of reading is a luxury — there simply isn’t enough time during one’s day to settle down with a book. Penguin’s “Escape Into a Book” campaign sought to address this position by marketing Penguin’s books as vehicles of escape from tedious waiting periods. We love how the opened book sits among bored commuters, drawing us in like it draws in its reader, to subtle effect. Click here to see the rest of the campaign’s images.

[Image via Sarah Fleming]


Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, Malaysia, 2009

Penguin’s “Unputdownable” campaign is meant to emphasize the addictive nature of classic literature; the hands of readers are transformed into classic novels, from The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit to The Hounds of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems that Penguin is also selling the experience of reading a book — with Kindles and their like flooding the market, it’s important for book publishers to remind readers that nothing fits into our hands quite like books. This campaign captures us with its sharp literalness and slight fantasy.

[Image via Behance]

“Your Own World”

Agency: DDB Hong Kong/ Tribal DDB Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2010

We understand how easy it is to get engrossed in a great book — we have had our fair share of missed subway stops and collisions with inanimate objects, which is why we love Penguin’s “Your Own World” campaign. The advertisements depict one reader in an easily identifiable city — Paris, Tokyo, London — yet the normally busy streets are completely empty. The campaign recognizes that books provide a little world for readers to call their own, one that offers solitude and respite. We also appreciate that Penguin didn’t include any tagline or explanation on the images. Sometimes it’s nice to not be hit over the head with things.

[Image via The Inspiration Room]

“Coin Landscapes”

Agency: DDB Singapore, Singapore, 2010

Whether publicizing a yet-to-be published book or the splendor of books in general, Penguin campaigns are always charming and clever. Take this series of ads for Penguin’s Rough Guide budget travel series — in order to articulate the money-saving tips their guides contain, the ads depict various landscapes using coins.

[Image via The Inspiration Room]

“Travel with Words”

Agency: IESP João Pessoa, Brazil, 2010

There is nothing like a good typography-based ad. Simplistic, clean and fun, Penguin’s “Travel With Words” campaign transforms words into images, elongating the “A” in Paris to symbolize the Eiffel Tower, tilting the “I” in Piza to mimic the Leaning Tower. While we found the other images cute, it was this poster of London, evoking a double-decker bus, that won us over. And we can’t help but agree with tagline: “Travel with words, meet the world.”

[Image via Penn Olson]

“Meet the Classics”

Agency: EC Comunicação, Brazil, 2011

In 2011, Penguin left copy and illustrations behind and took to guerrilla marketing. In order to promote the Classics from Penguin book series, the publisher installed brightly colored typewriters amid laptops in the computer aisles of Brazilian book retailers. Juxtaposing the cold, metallic hardware with the endearingly retro charm of a typewriter, Penguin reminds customers that while technology may change, certain books stand the test of time. The piece of paper bearing the words “meet the classics” stuck in the typewriter jarred store browsers out of their routines with the realization that, despite all the tweeting and Tumblring, nothing can replace reading books.

[Image via PSFK]