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9 Unique Ambient Advertisements

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As I researched a recent article on innovative outdoor advertising, I came across quite a few examples of ads placed in unique settings. These communications, meant to surprise consumers by making their brands stand out, are referred to as "ambient" advertising by some, and "guerilla" advertising by others. Whatever the name, they brought a smile to my face, so I thought I would share them here.

1. Big Pilot Watches

I've always found the best way to tell if I like a watch is to try it on. So these Big Pilot watches printed on German bus straps might have been a very effective way to get me in a buying mood. Then again, maybe they would only remind me of how late I was.

2. Mr. Clean

MrClean

I've seen a few of these crosswalk ads, but this is my favorite. You know those stripes are always pretty filthy, so seeing one really bright line is sure to get your attention. At least that's what Proctor & Gamble was hoping when they polished one stripe on German crosswalks, and decorated them with a Mr. Clean logo. Now let's just hope no one was mesmerized enough to forget about the oncoming traffic.

3. School of Visual Arts

sva

You're a visual arts school, and you want potential students to get in touch with their inner Picasso. Why not remind them that great ideas can happen anywhere? New York's School of Visual Arts encouraged people to write down their thoughts by printing lined paper on everyday objects like restaurant napkins, sugar packets, and even toilet paper. Inspired concept plus clean design equals effective advertising.

4. Toronto Comedy Film Festival

pie-face
Who doesn't love watching someone get a pie in the face? Next to slipping on a banana peel, it's probably the most classic physical comedy move there is. So these revolving door decals promoting Toronto's comedy film festival were sure to get Canadians in a slapstick mood. Just imagine seeing your boss coming through that entrance.

5. Cancer Patients Aid Association

smoker-funeral

If you were smoking in a designated smoking area and you saw this ceiling poster, depicting a funeral going on above your grave, do you think you might put out the butt? These morbid reminders, created by the Everest Brand Solutions agency of Mumbai, were meant to do just that. Then again, if you're so desperate for a smoke that you can't wait until you get outside, you might need more than a clever poster.

6. Purell

mag-germs

This one hits pretty close to home. I'm a bit of a clean freak, and I probably hit the Purell bottle a dozen times a day. You may think that's excessive. Then again, you haven't seen the crowd I hang with. Anyway, if I were in my doctor's office leafing through magazines and I saw a sticker on the cover that read "Gently sneezed on since October 2002," I might just insist on an anti-bacterial shower right there.

7. Iams

dogs

Saatchi & Saatchi of Sydney gave out frisbees resembling barbell weights to promote how dogs can gain strength by eating Iams dog food. Can't you just imagine dozens of dogs in a park playing catch with barbell weights?

8. Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership

HumanTraffic

You're looking for a nice sirloin or rib eye, and you jump back as you see a naked woman staring at you. That's the reaction Luxembourg ad agency Mikado Publicis was looking for when they printed images of women inside food packaging and placed them in the meat sections of local super markets. The campaign was meant to drive awareness of human trafficking, with copy that reads, "If you pay a prostitute, you're financing human trading..." That would get a shopper's attention.

9. Spiderman III

spiderman-urinal

And this gets my personal first prize for funniest ambient effort. When I walk into a public restroom looking for a vacant urinal, my eyes usually don't drift ten feet up the wall. This Spiderman III ad is hysterical, and it might have made me want to see the flick in theaters instead of waiting until the DVD came out. And it also proves that no space is off limits in the world of guerilla advertising.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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