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Interactive billboards

Richard Porter | 11:04 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2007

BBC World logoWhatever you think of this blog (and judging by the comments to Peter Barron's entry there are some of you in both the "like" and the "dislike" camps) it has never been our intention to use it solely for the purposes of advertising. Sure, we're happy to tell you about a new development if we think it's noteworthy, but we don't just run "house" adverts.

Well there's an exception to every rule. We at BBC World have been running some thought-provoking billboard adverts in New York City. They are a bit of a departure from anything we've done before, and we hope they get the message across to our new and growing audiences in the US that we are serious about reflecting all sides in our news coverage.

One of the adverts in the campaign (photomontage)

They have also attracted quite a bit of attention elsewhere on the internet - here, here, here and here, for example.

So here you are - please let us know what you think.


  • 1.
  • At 12:26 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • John Williams wrote:

Cracking idea. It's hard to advertise news and current affairs, as by the time it's published, it's history. This is a great method of advertising and engaging a broad audience.

And surely a good money spinner too, eh?!

  • 2.
  • At 12:27 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

That's really, really clever, really good. Well done whomever cooked that up.

  • 3.
  • At 12:28 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • EM wrote:

Very nice. Now put them up in the other 49 states and see how you do. Whatever information you glean from the ones in NYC (or SF or LA) will not reflect the majority of opinion in the US, so I don't see the point of this excersise except as marketing tool for your product. The BBC is viewed as anti-American, and I say this as someone who watches and has watched the BBC for most of my (long) lifetime.

  • 4.
  • At 12:35 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Patrea wrote:

When will you run this on "Have your say" so that license payers can comment:
BBC accused of institutional 'trendy left-wing bias'

  • 5.
  • At 12:57 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Kendrick Curtis wrote:

As (4): Please back up your report of the BBC's impartiality by running a poll on the BBC News website asking whether people think you are impartial or not!

As to the billboard, I think it's a great, eye-catching idea. Well done for innovating.

  • 6.
  • At 01:05 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Hmm..what was Naomi Klein saying about there being 'No Space' ?

Still, a good idea though.

  • 7.
  • At 01:31 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Matthew wrote:

It's a great initiative but surely this blog is funded through the licence fee. Therefore, should BBC World be allowed access to it to advertise their commercial activities?

  • 8.
  • At 01:31 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

Text message voting for billboards? And whoever said the BBC was dumbing down!

very impressive, a real eye-catcher.

  • 10.
  • At 02:39 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

Excellent ads - you should do something similar on the News website as a way of getting people to go to the Have Your Say section.

Thanks for the link. And the above commenters are correct, this ad campaign was just about brilliant in its execution. Good for you.

  • 12.
  • At 03:44 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Steven M. Dorif wrote:

Well, glad to see your determination to show the U.S. that you will reflect all sides of the story.

When are you going to impliment the same policy in the U.K?

Using one side of the story as your headline and then giving equal or less airspace to the opposing side, even when it is sometimes clearly more important (witness the MMR fiasco) is not balance.

Each side has to be shown in proportion or we get little idea of the context.

I have lost count of the number of reports that spend several minutes talking about the minority of problems and then only mention the majority success in passing, if at all. This is avoiding proportion and losing context entirely.

Witness the latest NHS headline; 25% of trusts fail to meet hygiene targets, fine, but not a mention of the 75% that succeed. It's no good assuming everyone will, make the connection automatically, they obviously don't or we would have a more realistic view of the state of our health service, crime, education etc. etc.

Isn't it about time the BBC made the effort to give a balanced presentation of the facts? Once the facts are given and placed in context, then opinion pieces can be aired on the basis of those facts, but now opinion and fact are intermingled.

It seems today so many political corespondents have become caracatures of Dennis Pennis, and not very good ones.

BBC Question Time has become an irrational bear-pit, because every story is exagerrated and sensatuionalised by the media.

I fondly dream of the day when we will have somewhere to go where we can get the facts placed firmly in context and all sides views represented proportionally.

There is a huge constituency out there that is sick and tired of the newsmedia sensationalising every story.

The BBC could restore it's reputation and become the natural source of unbiased and level-headed news reporting, if the Editors had the intestinal fortitude to stop competing with the tabloids.

  • 13.
  • At 03:47 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

Patrea #4

I absolutley agree, where is the HYS on this issue? where is the blog entry? Obviously the BBC don't want this discussed in an open forum, no surprise there.

Could it be that in an attempt to make us forget about the balen report the BBC funded yet another internal review hoping it would be more to there liking. it is not but almost certainly a lot less critcal than the Balen report.

So they throw us a bone.

We haven't forgotten BBC. SHOW US THE BALEN REPORT or refund our license fee.

  • 14.
  • At 04:03 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Jim-UK wrote:

Great idea, wouldn't mind seeing something similar over here. Not too sure about this one

  • 15.
  • At 04:10 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Kit wrote:

Great idea- you should role them out in the UK but for News 24... Would work well in Central London!

  • 16.
  • At 04:17 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

Great idea, very innovative and certainly a contrast to the standard American news a la FOX.

  • 17.
  • At 06:18 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

BBC has been an alternative news and commentary source from a foreign country just like many others. Its increased activity trying to capture a larger share of the American market as a permanent fixture could turn it into an unwelcome hostile alien presence. It is one thing for people to criticize their own leaders, their own country, their own society and quite another to hear it incessantly and inaccurately from the outside, especially from those in a country which has many of its own shortcomings. BBC may soon be treading on very thin ice if it thinks it will get away with the kind of anti American nonsense it normally spews and gets away with on its international broadcasts and on the internet. And it would do well to find people who actually know what America is really about and not rely on their preconceived notions gleaned through a foreign made prism as they have usually done up to now. There isn't even one Alistair Cooke left among you.

  • 18.
  • At 08:35 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • greg wrote:

Brilliant idea. public opinion is so often right about issues and is usually contrary to what our politicians want us to believe.

A really good idea is to use this system in leadership debates, so people can really see who's policies are most in-line with public opinion without having the political journalists only give time to the two main candidates. That would be a really powerful piece of media; that is if we actually ever get a clear televised leadership debate for any party.
In the Labour deputy leadership debate with Paxman it would've been very interesting to see who people agreed with the most as it was hard to tell.

Yes, congratulations to your ad agency.

I would also like to add my voice to those calling for a similar even-handed approach to be adopted in the UK output of the BBC. It's not a party political bias, I know, but giving a welcome to any left wing view, no matter what its source, doesn't actually add up to impartial coverage.

Can anyone think of a drama with a broadly right-wing message that the BBC has ever produced?

  • 20.
  • At 11:28 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Jenny wrote:

Please consider, as you take a huge punt with your brand in the notorious US market, that you might not be a clever as you think.

The US media, with very few, very notable exceptions, is totally involved in making nice with those who matter (and to hell with those who don't) or else. Advertisers, lobbyists, political operators. Has the BBC the strength, as a newcomer, to overcome that? I doubt it. The big risk is that you will learn the US way and bring it back home. That, for example, Paxman will have to be nice with US politicians everywhere if he is to get them on his US show.

Did it occur to you that, as the former colonial power, the BBC might be seen by many who see your billboard as the subject of your poll? How many will know the troops shown as US troops, and not British? BBC World, occupier of at least that piece of the US (and with ambitions), or liberator? I hope the money you are using for this push isn't borrowed against the license payers' assets.

  • 21.
  • At 11:43 AM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • Dave J wrote:

Steven Dorif, can you recall a decent example of a BBC report having a partial view? I'm sorry, but complaining that the headline wasn't "75% of NHS Trusts now meet hygiene standards" isn't good enough. That's not news, it's politics. If the BBC were to run the story in that way, I think there would be many more people complaining that they were trying to cover up how bad it was.

  • 22.
  • At 11:47 AM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • VRWC wrote:

Here's another possible interactive billboard:

  • 23.
  • At 02:21 PM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • Steven M. Dorif wrote:

Dave J.

I didn't say it was partial, it is sensationalist.

My point is that the 75% of trusts succeeding in meeting their targets was ignored. This does not present the facts in context. The BBC does have to use that headline, but it would have been refreshing if they had mentioned the point anywhere in their report on this.

Reporting on one isolated aspect of a situation, distorts the public view of that situation.

Problems should be reported, but placed in context, which the BBC fails to do time and again.

How else do you explain the huge difference between public perception and individual experience?

Take the NHS.

65% plus of those who used it recently say they got a good or very good service, yet when asked about the NHS nationally, the same people believe they were the 'lucky ones' and most other people get an inferior service.

Both views cannot be right. One is based on experience and the other on what they are told about the NHS.

I would argue experience is the more reliable source of information, therefore the information about the wider NHS service is distorted. How is it distorted?

Newsmedia focuses on the problems alone - without putting those problems in context.

How many times heve we heard about hospital closures with no mention of the massive hospital and clinic building program? How often do we hear about 'possible' medical staff job losses without a mention of the huge numbers of medical staff jobs created?

Look at crime figures, this is the first govt. since the war to reverse the growth of crime and by a significant amount, but most people say crime is worse than ever.

We have piece after piece on gun crime, terrorist activity, peadophiles, gang culture, human trafficking Etc.Ect., but how often is that put in context? How many times is the worse case scenario presented without mention of the more likely probability?

Peadophile attacks by strangers are actually very rare, but parents are afraid to allow their kids out of their sight.

Children are carrying more weapons because they feel afraid.

Lobby groups know that the only way they will get airtime is if they cause a fuss and accuse the Govt. of incompetence or corruption.

There are no problems anymore, always crisis', never confusion, always chaos.

We spend rediculous amounts of time reading about 'scandalous' Croquet games or cowboy hats. Or being taken on flights of fancy about the murderous Pakistani mafia killing Bob Woolmer. Or the fuss about sailors selling there stories. There is no molehill too samll it cannot be spun into a mountain of controversy, no idea to preposterous that it cannot be given creedence,- as long as it sells.

Political reporters are not considered worthwhile unless they are "sticking two fingers up the Governments noses", Paxman and Humphreys play semantic games in the effort to get a politician to say anything that may possibly be interprted as being controversial.

Anyone with any vestige of power is assumed to be corrupt or incompetent.

The whole arena of political debate has moved from excitable and volatile to hysterical and rabid.

We are badly served by our newsmedia and because of their unique position we should be holding the BBC to higher standards. They have no need to compete with the tabloids.

The BBC news dept. could regain its reputation worlwide and serve us all well, but they are too fixed in the media culture, where scandal is king and the rest is not worth mentioning.

  • 24.
  • At 09:53 PM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • eric wrote:

@#20, Jenny:

As an American, I can tell you that the notion that anyone today thinks of the British as imperialist is ridiculous. On the contrary, the American image of the Brits is as one of a rather conciliatory, and unfailingly polite ally.

With regard to the BBC's attempt to more prominently enter the news marketplace, I imagine that the BBC thought of the same way as *our* public information outlets: Nat'l Public Radio, NPR; and the Public Broadcasting System, PBS. Both of these outlets are highly-regarded but have the reputation of being stuffy and highbrow (as compared to commercial news).

  • 25.
  • At 01:47 AM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • Jenny wrote:

Bishop Hill wrote: "I would also like to add my voice to those calling for a similar even-handed approach to be adopted in the UK output of the BBC. It's not a party political bias, I know, but giving a welcome to any left wing view, no matter what its source, doesn't actually add up to impartial coverage. Can anyone think of a drama with a broadly right-wing message that the BBC has ever produced?"

Oh yes, many. Every drama at all related to assisted fertilisation, genetics, or "cloning", for example. All totally reactionary. The same goes for ITV and Hollywood.

BBC News gives hardly any coverage to women's or sexual minority issues that isn't from the male or "majority", or plain ignorant point of view (what else can one say of a news producer who couldn't spell "Roe" in the crucial Roe-v-Wade abortion case, for example?). What there is is mostly confined to times when they think mostly women will be watching. I see that as right wing.

The new report on Impartiality and the BBC has not a single reference to "lesbian", "feminist", or "transgender". It has a small handful of references to "gay" and "women", none addessing that their concerns may not be reflected. The "gay" ones mostly assuming that many BBC employees have that sexual orientation (without providing any evidence, and so really exhibiting prejudice), "women" ones mostly assuming that an "equal opportunities" policy in employment mans a bias in programmes. A wildly improbable assumption, especially given that there clearly has not yet been anything like success in creating equal opportunities. Clearly even the "great and the good" have problems with perspective.

Face it, "left" and "right" depends on your point of view. The BBC undoubtably does what those in power there at the time see as "balanced" on subjects they see as important.

  • 26.
  • At 04:48 PM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • Steven Dorif wrote:

My point about the NHS report was to show that the problem is overstated, as is usual.

25% of trusts have not met one of three targets for hygiene. So they have met 66% of their targets along with the, presumably, 100% compliance of the other 75%, that is a better than 90% overall compliance with hygiene targets.

This shows a problem that should be addressed, but it is hardly a crisis.

I don't expect the BBC to start boring us with complex statistics, but I do expect them to put reports into context.

The view that stating the positive aspects of a situatuon is political, but stating the negatives aspects is impartial makes no sense.

Both sides should be shown and in proportion, which is the theme of this thread.

  • 27.
  • At 08:46 PM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

Great idea, its nice to see something as simple as this which can show (in real time) the public's opinion on issues. The pictures in the middle are simple but also make you think.
Would be nice to see some of these around the UK sometime soon!

  • 28.
  • At 02:33 PM on 24 Jun 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

It's a clever marketing campaign, but it also nicely represents my theory on one of societies biggest (and growing) problems.

Mass media forces its consumers to form judgements and opinions immediately, often upon inadequate or flawed information, and these unqualified views can end up being corrosive and difficult to correct.

Politicians realise this phenomenon all too well, and this is how pretexts for wars are cast, or inconvenient facts re-spun.

Case in point: Hardly anybody mentions Hans Blitz anymore - the chief UN weapons inspector who told Blair/Bush that Iraq posessed no WMD.

The spin has become, "everybody believed the intelligence we had at the time". It simply isn't true, and they go unchallenged.


  • 29.
  • At 04:18 AM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • Chris Ray wrote:

I wonder if the BBC has the courage to show the twin towers burning and pose the alternative "al quaeda" or "inside job". Now that would be "a thought-provoking billboard" but I doubt Mr. Porter would know what to do with the answer.

  • 30.
  • At 12:39 AM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • Bill wrote:

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