Recently I came across a story on the NPR blog about interactive billboards. The concept of interactive billboards is interesting and has the potential to be a lot of fun.
However, I was a bit caught off-guard by the Lynx Angel large format digital campaign for Excite fragrance, which has a scent so alluring that "even angels will fall." Details of the ad campaign's success discussed here. I won't post footage of it on my blog, but if you want to see it, you could find it easily enough on youtube. Basically, as a person stepped onto a particular spot on the floor, he could look up at a billboard and see a scantily-clad, sexy-looking "angel" drop down beside him and begin to interact with him on the billboard screen. In the footage I saw, many people interacted with this sexy "angel" in very concerning ways.
My concerns with this ad campaign were twofold. First, the portrayal of women as sexy "angels" that drop down to be petted, molested, etc. The way many people quickly jumped to behavior that I regard as demeaning toward women was alarming, and the way the audience laughed and encouraged it was also alarming. Now, granted, the people interacting with the billboard weren't REALLY touching these women-dressed-as-angels inappropriately, but, on the other hand, it looked like it on the screen (even as it looked ridiculous in real life). Maybe the billboard was no worse than many billboards these days (or just walk past a Victoria's Secret store in the mall), but on the other hand, witnessing what looks like women getting harassed (and the women themselves seemingly encouraging the interaction) is problematic to me, especially given that, well, it was so public and unpredictable.
My second concern, of course, was in the portrayal of angels. I mean, we all know the way angels have been commercialized, whether as chubby innocent cherubs or as lacy-panty wearing winged women. So I know I shouldn't be surprised that another company would use an angel campaign. But I couldn't help thinking what if it were the Archangel Michael dropping down there on the interactive billboard, blood dripping from his unsheathed sword. It wouldn't be an effective marketing campaign, that's for sure. An angel is a messenger of God, and when necessity requires, it can appear in physical form to human beings. But this is not as a sexy woman seducing passers-by and encouraging strangers to touch her. Nor is the thought of fallen angels an appealing concept for me; there's nothing attractive about Satan or other fallen angels.
If this interactive campaign managed to offend me both as a woman and as a theologian, you'll be happy to know that I did like the "Drag Him Away" campaign sponsored by the National Centre for Domestic Violence. In this campaign, the billboard shows a woman getting berated by a man, and the audience can drag him from screen to screen by interacting through their cellphones. Neil Morris, founder of Grand Visual commented: "Handing the public control of on-screen content is a powerful call to action which fosters a deeper level of engagement amongst outdoor audiences. This campaign really drives home NCDV's message to take action and stop domestic violence now."