The Challenge

We knew Obama’s presidential memoir A Promised Land would sell amongst armchair historians and politicos. But like all Obama projects, the aim was to widen appeal, bringing in a much more mainstream reader.

All very well, except the release cost £35 for the hardback and £50 on audible. The book also came in at 768-pages. Neither of these made it an easy sell to a light reader.

Our Approach

The Brief

With the US election coinciding with release, the obvious approach was to piggyback this huge cultural moment. But social listening showed this was a dangerous red herring with political debate and differing opinions skewing sentiment negatively. When we excluded key political terms, it flipped to 85% positive. Any association with controversial political figures risked turning sentiment sour and however relevant, the current context risked undermining our launch.

But there is one thing that defines Obama – hope; his belief that everyone deserves a voice, and that politics should not be the remit of the few. We would ignore politics and instead re-instil hope when it was needed most.

What we did

1) Banishing Hate

Our approach meant taking the right path, not the easy path. Political terms such as Trump, Washington, and even President were added to keyword exclusion lists.

It also meant walking the walk. Despite Obama’s 57 million Facebook fans and 128 million Twitter followers we abstained from both platforms because of scrutiny into their influence on US elections.

2) Inspiring Hope

Next, we focused on appealing to our broader “swing” reader. Among this group, Obama is famed for giving great speeches (YouGov), and as lighter readers they were also much more likely to buy audiobooks, so we made audio the centrepiece of our campaign.

We shared Obama’s message of hope in mass listening moments – notably two radio stations known not for their politics, but their infectious positivity: Heart and Capital. Meanwhile, a partnership with Capital Xtra saw presenters interview Alex Smith, a Fellow of the Obama Foundation, to inspire youth audiences to engage with their future potential.

Our podcast presence included a media first, a branded segment which included listener’s written-in contributions. Hosts read out these dreams of hope – with Obama’s message compared to the community rallying during COVID-19, the BLM movement, and the actions of Marcus Rashford.

The Results

A Promised Land hit number 1 in the Sunday Times and Amazon charts and stayed there for seven weeks straight.

It was the fastest selling presidential memoir of all time, despite launching during the November lockdown with all bookshops closed.

Although only on sale for five weeks, it was 2020’s sixth bestselling book.

Sales patterns demonstrate that we successfully brought in lighter readers. A record-breaking third of all sales were in audiobook. In release week, audio share was three times higher than the previously set record.

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