This Mazda Billboard Scans the Crowd to Keep a Tally of How Often the Car Literally Turns Heads

Uses both crowd detection and facial recognition software

Is this Mazda billboard turning heads? You can count on it.

Installed on Monday in the retail concourse of Toronto’s Royal Bank Plaza, the digital sign, timed to the Canadian International Auto Show, plays a 15-second video that shows the sleek new MX-5 RF from various angles.

Custom software allows the ad to detect each time a passerby turns to gawk at the car, and the screen displays a running tally. In just two days, the “head count” approached 15,000.

“The billboard uses a combination of crowd detection and facial recognition technology,” explains Ari Elkouby, creative director at J. Walter Thompson Canada, which developed the campaign with Excelerator Media, Pattison Onestop and Pattison’s interactive arm, Fourth Wall.

The software “identifies when someone is in the vicinity of the board and then verifies through a number of separate algorithms that a person has turned their head to towards our hidden camera,” Elkouby says. “To bring this idea to life, the video wall required a custom, industrial-grade computer upgrade that could process high-frame-rate video while rendering dynamic data in real-time.”

Part of a citywide out-of-home campaign, the sign will remain in place for a month. If the current pace holds, it could ultimately turn more than 150,000 heads.

“There was quite a bit of behind-the-scenes testing and late nights of complex coding in order to make this work,” Elkouby says.

Despite the use of innovative tech, however, his team opted to keep things relatively simple. The billboard’s interactivity is fun but not overly distracting, which adds to its charm.

Now, unlike Apotek’s hair-raising Swedish subway sign, Mazda’s execution won’t blow anyone away. On the other hand, it steers clear of questionable elements, such as a certain pharmacy ad’s passive-aggressive tendencies (cough-cough).

“This channel requires a lot of restraint and respect for the audience,” Elkouby says. Plus, “a complicated message wouldn’t cut it in a busy underground concourse with lots of traffic, so we kept fine-tuning the headline and the idea until it was as short as possible while still delivering the intended message.”

Client: Mazda
Agency: J. Walter Thompson Toronto
Chief Creative Officer New York & Canada: Brent Choi
Chief Creative Officer Toronto: Ryan Spelliscy
VP, Creative Director: Ari Elkouby
VP, Creative Director: Matt Syber-Olsen
Copywriter: Darya Klymenko, Nick Asik
Art Director: Fiorella Martinez, Raul Garcia
Strategic Planning Director: Matt Ball
Account Director: Jeff Thomas
Senior Account Executive: Brittini Pacey
Media: Pattison Outdoor Advertising
VP Pattison Onestop: Cam Milne (Pattison)
VP of Production: Dmitri Melamed (Fourth Wall)
National Account Executive: Amanda Headon (Pattison)
Editor: Sauce (JWT)

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@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.