Bacteria-coated Billboards Illustrate How Dirty Your Go-to Objects Actually Are


A new campaign is using bacteria-coated billboards to make people aware of how dirty the objects that they touch every single day actually are to encourage handwashing.

The objects that we touch every single day are home to an enormous amount of bacteria and fungi. Although they cannot be seen, the fact remains that they are there, and they are interacting with our microbiomes several times a day. How many times a day do you touch your smartphone or handle money? Do you wash your hands after touching your phone, or even clean your phone? If not, you may be getting more than you bargained for.

Advertisements, dubbed “Bacteriads,” have been launched in South American shopping malls to make people more aware of the bacteria living on their objects, and thus, on their own hands. Lifebuoy, is a soap brand that was created as a part of the goal of William Lever—1st Viscount Leverhulme—to end cholera in Victorian England. Since its creation, the company has been putting their efforts into increasing handwashing among the public; somethign the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) say is “the best way to reduce the number of germs” in the majority of situations.

These startling, albeit factual, ads are essentially billboard-sized petri dishes, and are currently running in South American shopping malls. The billboards are comprised of a number of bacteria that have been swabbed from everyday objects—money, smartphones, video game controllers—that continue to grow and multiply in number in front of curious mallgoers’ eyes over the course of a few days.

In a video on Bacteriads, Silvia Villar, PhD, specialist in genetic toxicology, said, “Usually what’s not visible to people isn’t taken as real. Nevertheless, the microorganisms exist and they’re the cause of some of the most frequent illnesses.”

With the help of these ads, people will be able to watch firsthand how these bacteria multiply on the common objects that they use every single day. Frequent handwashing, with soap and water, is almost a “do-it-yourself” vaccine, that can work to protect and prevent the spread of a number of conditions and diseases, according to the CDC. In addition, the billboards also break the image of bacteria as cartoon villains, a depiction that has been commonly used in advertising for a number of different products.

The group chief creative officer at Electric Factory—the design firm creating these ads—Juan Ciapessoni explained in a press release, “Advertising, until now, told you that bacteria are bad and cause disease by showing them as funny and disgusting 3D ‘monsters.’ But by making caricatures of the problem, there’s the potential danger that a very real issue could be taken lightly.”

By straying from the norm, these new advertisements work to offer a more accurate representation of these bacteria. This is not the first time that these “cultivated” campaigns have been used. Lifebuoy released a “Live Germs Billboard” previous to this, which was hung in a storefront window in London. In that one, a team used Lifebuoy’s antibacterial soap to spell out the brand, and then took samples from ten different bacteria and put them on the board. Over the course of a few days, the billboard was covered in a number of bacterial colonies.

These campaigns work to create awareness of these germs and enforce handwashing. According to the Bacteriad, only 17% of people wash their hands on a daily basis and “It’s a big, yet noticeable problem. That’s why we made it noticeable in plain sight.”

Feature Picture Source: The Electric Factory / Mashable.

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