Viacom Is Turning NYC Buildings Into Billboards to Combat Gender and Racial Bias

PSAs also tackle education and veterans' health

Breaking through the ad clutter to raise awareness of social issues and affect change can be challenging, but Viacom is aiming to do just that by projecting eye-opening statistics directly onto buildings in New York City. Viacom teamed up with Witness, a human rights organization co-founded by musician Peter Gabriel, for a series of PSAs, "Witness the Power of Story." The spots are being rolled out across Viacom's networks, including MTV, VH1, CMT, BET and Spike.

The PSAs draw attention to each network's social good campaigns, which are geared toward their specific target audiences: Look Different, MTV's effort to combat gender bias; VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping music education in public schools; CMT Empowering Education, an initiative to improve rural education; BET's What's At Stake, a campaign for empowering African-American millennials, and Spike's Veterans Operation Wellness, a campaign for veterans' health issues.

For MTV's PSA, common stereotypes heard by women were projected onto buildings, including, "She's so sensitive," "This is a man's job," and "You'd look prettier if you smiled." For BET's video, this stat was projected: "Stereotype: More black men are in prison than in college. Reality: Fifty-nine percent more black men are in postsecondary education than in jail." Spike's video features the statistic, "Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day."

Viacom matched the buildings they used with each particular issue, for example, projecting stats for VH1's Save the Music on to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and for Spike's veterans' initiative, on an armory in Washington Heights. "We strategically picked different neighborhoods and buildings where we knew there would be foot traffic, but also were relevant to the particular cause," Chris Lenz, senior vice president of creative and production at Viacom Velocity, told Adweek.

The PSAs include shots of these statistics and reactions from passersby, and each spot directs viewers to a website,, which includes links to the networks' charitable initiatives and encourages people to upload photos or videos showing how they're making an impact to Instagram using #story4change. Viacom is also hosting a video booth at South By Southwest for the campaign, asking attendees to record their experiences with these issues.

"We wanted to catch the attention of our viewers, and give them a way to share their own personal stories. It's about getting them engaged in the conversation," said Ali Jannello Tuck, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Viacom. "The PSAs are starting to generate awareness for the networks' initiatives, which is great. For us, success is seeing people get involved and making an impact by sharing their own stories."


Witness the Power of Story – BET from Viacommunity on Vimeo.

Witness the Power of Story – Spike VOW (Veterans Operation Wellness) from Viacommunity on Vimeo.

Witness the Power of Story – VH1 Save the Music Foundation from Viacommunity on Vimeo.

Witness the Power of Story – CMT Empowering Education from Viacommunity on Vimeo.