The New Ad You Might Not See

April 30th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

A controversial video billboard only allows women to watch.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

A not-for-profit organization in the UK seeking to aid the world’s poorest girls has launched a new ad campaign that is generating plenty of buzz – although not everyone can see it.

Plan UK’s “Because I Am A Girl” campaign is running an outdoor interactive video on Oxford Street in London’s West End, which uses a high-definition camera to scan pedestrians and identify their gender before showing an ad that promotes sponsoring a girl to receive proper education in a developing country.

And if you have a Y chromosome, you won’t be watching it.

The point of the campaign, according to Plan UK’s website, is to show men “a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away.” Female pedestrians will be shown the full 40-second video, but a male passerby will be directed to the group’s website for more information. According to advertising consultancy PSFK, the system has a 90 percent accuracy rate in analyzing a person’s facial features to determine whether they’re male or female.

Plan UK’s site highlights the plight of four million girls in developing countries: “Currently, 75 million girls around the world are being denied the right to an education; every year 10 million girls in developing countries are coerced or forced into marriage under the age of 18, with thousands of girls each year giving birth when they are still children themselves.” The “Choices for Girls” ad tells the stories of three 13-year-old girls, from the UK, Mali and Thailand, which shows everyday footage of their lives, telling of their hopes and dreams, and underscoring the choices that many girls are denied in some developing countries. You can see the film here.

Few have taken issue with the aims of the ad itself, but the group’s methods and technology have spurred some controversy, some of which involves the price of the ad itself. The display costs an estimated £30,000 ($47,000), and will run for only two weeks in an effort to raise £250,000 ($391,700) via donations over the next four months.

One commenter on the PSFK site asked, “Why couldn't they have just donated the £30,000 straight to the charity rather than fork out for the technology? Others took issue with the technology itself, such as one commenter, who asked what would happen if a couple wanted to see the ad (“…only one of them gets to watch it?”) and wondered why the group would install an expensive HD camera and display instead of a credit card reader, so people could donate right there instead of going to a website later in the day. 

Yet another PSFK commenter pointed out that the fact that people were arguing about it shows it’s working. What’s your take? Would the group’s beneficiaries have been better served by a direct injection of the money it used to set up face-recognition technology, or could the ad be a game-changing new way of getting people to reach into their wallets?