Freelance writer Martin Baker likes to describe the New York Public Library’s “Instanovels” as an idea that’s “wrong in the right way.” Unlike social media platforms, which are designed to help us stay up to date with what’s going on in the world in a matter of seconds, it was an effort that forced people to “slow down.”
Conceived with his former partner, Mother New York creative Lauren Van Aswegen, the effort placed entire novels, like Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” on NYPL’s Instagram account.
The campaign’s aim was to communicate the NYPL’s mission to inspire lifelong learning and knowledge through its social platforms. Going into the Cannes Lions festival, the work is already in a prime spot, having made the Titanium shortlist.
Each novel, which unfolds through Instagram Stories, opens with a “cover” in the form of whimsical animation—like a minitrailer pulling readers into the novels’ worlds. Along with selecting the most compelling artists for each job, “we spent a lot of time on finding the right typeface, type size,” Van Aswegen recalls. They debated the color of the pages, whether the text should be left or right justified.
“To read an entire book on Instagram is kind of crazy,” Baker says. But read people did. To date, more than 300,000 novels have been read on the platform, according to NYPL’s latest figures.
Baker entered advertising by way of bacon. His first gig was as an intern at J&D Foods, which existed solely to create bacon-related products. There, he helped to launch a company first: bacon-flavored lube. Not surprisingly, it got tons of media coverage, including a fake ad promoting it on “The Tonight Show.” That eventually led to an internship at Mother, followed by a stint at Barton F. Graf and then, a return to Mother before going freelance in January.
Van Aswegen studied advertising and began working in her native South Africa before moving to Leagas Delaney in Prague. Her first U.S. gig followed in 2014 at Ogilvy & Mather New York, where she worked on clients including Motorola and Coke Zero. Last year, she moved to Mother New York.
Once together, the pair jumped into multiple pitches—a crash course, of sorts, in getting to know each other. Soon enough, they discovered their differences were a plus.
“You hear people talk about not needing to reinvent the wheel, but I like to think, ‘Why wouldn’t we reinvent the wheel, or maybe we don’t need the wheel at all,’” says Baker of his approach. “But of course, you have to be strategic about it and make sure the rebellion is justified and not insane.”
Adds Van Aswegen: “While Martin is thinking about how to reinvent the wheel, I’m thinking, ‘How do we make it the best wheel possible?’ We’re both overthinking and killing ourselves from every angle.”