Facial recognition ad targets women to raise awareness

A new facial recognition powered ad has been installed at a billboard bus stop in London as part of an innovative advertising initiative. The best part? It’s for an amazing cause!

Plan UK, a non-profit that brings educational opportunities to children in developing countries, has decided to invest their advertising dollars in facial recognition technology as part of their Because I am a Girl campaign. The 40 second, interactive ad plays on a screen adjacent to a billboard after scanning the faces of its viewers and determining that they are female.

The video shows footage of three 13-year-old girls from the UK, Mali and Thailand talking about their hopes and dreams and the harsh limitations that girls face growing up in developing countries, as well as the drastic lack of resources available to them. The organization cites that 75 million girls around the world are denied access to education every year, with 10 million in developing countries being forced into marriage under the age of 18 and thousands more giving birth to children at very young ages.

Plan UK CEO, Marie Staunton says, “Millions of girls across the globe are being denied the right and choice to have an education. This ad is a deliberate attempt to raise public debate on this issue. Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign works with women and men, girls and boys, to challenge the discrimination that girls face as a result of their sex. We work to challenge negative stereotypes.”

The pricey ad (a 2 week run costs around 50k) boasts a 90% accuracy and the organization funding it claims that its aim is to give men “a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away.“ When the facial recognition technology determines a male is viewing the ad, they are simply shown a website to visit where they can get more information on Plan UK.

The Because I am a Girl Campaign highlights the ways in which girls in poverty are drastically limited in terms of their educational opportunities in comparison to their male counterparts. Staunton makes a point to say that boys and men do play an essential role in combating this sort of discrimination and invites them to join the cause. The campaign encourages feedback by using the Twitter hashtag #choicesforgirls.

Currently, the screen is only installed at one bus stop, but there are plans to expand this mode of marketing if it proves successful. London is famously known for their extensive, city-wide surveillance system, so having one’s face captured and digitized may not feel as invasive to the citizen already used to the watchful eye of cameras.

How the ad responds to transgender individuals or others who don’t identify with a man/woman gender binary, still remains to be seen, as does its overall effectiveness as a new form of target marketing. But the ability to engage consumers through this type of medium can undoubtedly be powerful if used the right way. Until this technology shows up in an exploitative fashion, it’s comforting to see it used to generate attention toward a good cause that empowers women and promotes equality in exposure to resources. Plan UK deserves major props for a marketing strategy with such strong symbolism.


6 thoughts on “Facial recognition ad targets women to raise awareness

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  1. This really impresses me as something of a tech nerd, or maybe a tech appreciator. This technology is like the stuff they only would have had available in Epcot Center at Disneyworld not that long ago. It’s amazing, what we can do and convey with technology today. I even have no idea how it can tell gender. What if a tomboyish girl showed up, would it think it was a guy?

  2. I like the idea of such an interactive advertisement for what seems to be such a great cause. But I don’t know if this new technology sits well with me. I’m really glad that you mention trans people in this blog, because that’s the FIRST thing that came to my mind at the beginning of this piece. This kind of ad seems to reinforce the gender binary, and might end up making transgender and genderqueer folks feel very uncomfortable (not that they are forced to interact with this ad, but still). I also think it’s interesting that they choose not to show the important stuff when the ad recognizes a “male” viewer. If “Staunton makes a point to say that boys and men do play an essential role in combating this sort of discrimination,” then why aren’t they shown important information too? I understand that it is for a girl-focused campaign, but I wish they chose to incorporate something a little more detailed for male viewers, rather than just a suggestion to visit their website. Excluding men and boys isn’t the way to teach them to combat gender discrimination. Hm… I guess I’m just a little skeptical of the whole thing- not your blog, but this ad campaign. Great job writing about it, Heather. And thanks for bringing it to our attention! 🙂

  3. Stacey-
    I completely agree with you; half of me wanted to laud this company for using technology for a good cause, versus exploitation as I would imagine many companies are eager to get busy doing, and the other half was skeptical. I acknowledge that if I am really interested in expanding definitions of gender and insisting on equality for all persons, I have to also know that nothing will be “perfect”. I get the point they are trying to make, but you are right it only reinforces the gender binary and could alienate those who do not subscribe to traditional male/female roles which defeats the purpose of striving for equality and opportunities for all. It’s difficult because I think there is still so much lack of education on these fronts and that is something our society needs to step up, fostering awareness and combating stigma. (An interactive campaign similar to this, doing JUST THAT would be genius!) So, while I think this is a step in the right direction, it’s far from perfect or problem-free. I hope that further advancements are likely to examine the complicated issue of gender and not simply acknowledge it solely as a duality.

  4. Hmmm…As I’m transgendered I’d like to get my own back on the makers of this ad by making an interactive one of my own so that when they look at it, it begins something like: “As a cis person you have NO idea of what it’s like to be excluded in the way that you make many of us feel excluded by this ad, as a cis person you have choices blah blah de blah blah….” Ironic that the ad reinforces patriarchal sexist stereotypes by instantly judging a woman on whether she conforms and looks ‘feminine enough’ and then considering her to be a man if she doesn’t(!)

    Add to this the irony that the ad mentions lack of opportunities for schoolgirls in Thailand when THE major group of girls and young women whose choices are so limited in Thailand that they are mostly forced into prostitution happen to be transsexuals it’s clear to see that this ad was produced by a bunch of privileged western bourgeouis folk who know nothing of real gender and class oppression.

    Another marginalised group of women that this ad discriminates against is facially disfigured women. Instead of making women feel empowered all this ad does is do the opposite and reinforce negative gender stereotypes. This ad is a patronising insult to women everywhere!

  5. “London is famously known for their extensive, city-wide surveillance system, so having one’s face captured and digitized may not feel as invasive to the citizen already used to the watchful eye of cameras.”

    I find that quite sinister and I’m pretty sure that it might not be something to be proud of. If this is true I’m sure that contemporary London would have been the envy of the capitals of the former 1970s Soviet bloc(!)

  6. 100k per month and only women can see it? Why is that money not going into the organization of resources for all these girls we’re supposed to be so very concerned for? Is this humanitarian work or a technological talent show? What a waste.

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