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Germany

Bringing Science to Mass Transport

A new bus poster campaign in EU capital cities aims at getting young people to start thinking about controversial science issues.

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The EU SciBus campaign asks difficult questions

"More food or better food? Does technology have the answer?" Over the next month Berliners will be confronted with these and many more questions every time they hop on the city buses.

The questions form part of a series of four posters which don advertising spaces inside buses in all 15 EU capitals from London to Lisbon. In each poster, provocative questions and photos encourage passengers to think about issues concerning scientific developments in communication, food production, transportation and life itself.

The poster project was initiated by the Graphic Science Unit (GSU) of the University of the West of England in Bristol and the European Molecular Biology Organization. It was developed specifically to target young people who rely on public transport in Europe’s capital cities. Approximately eight million people are expected to view the posters.

Effective marketing

According to GSU director Frank Burnet, the poster campaign was designed to run in buses because it’s an effective means of reaching the target audience: young people. Compared to adults who tend to have their own cars, European youths rely more on mass transportation for getting around.

Buses also tend to have a poor standard of quality for advertising, Burnet told DW-WORLD. Thus, a well-designed graphic campaign such as the GSU’s stands out. And people have time to think about what they see.

Interactive campaign

Once they’ve started thinking about the topics addressed on the posters, passengers can participate in the ad campaign by sending their opinion as a message via mobile phone to the organizers. The responses are published on the SciBus Web site, an interactive site designed to offer young Internet users information on the role science and technology plays in daily life.

Within the first week of the project, the GSU received just under 100 messages from throughout the EU in various languages.

So far a Londoner has responded to the campaign by saying that the world needs "better communication and not more." A 22-year old Roman has called for "better lives". And another passenger said "technology has the answer if it is used properly."

Taking science to the masses

The GSU focuses on devising new ways to bring science to the public, to inspire dialogue and raise awareness of hot issues in technology. During the 1990s the Bristol group introduced the Science on the Bus campaign in Great Britain. It proved such a success that the organizers began thinking of ways to expand their campaign to get Europeans thinking about science as part of everyday activities.

The new European SciBus project as it’s now called was kicked off in all 15 EU capitols on Nov. 4, the start of the European Science and Technology Week, and is financed by the European Commission. Burnet says the responses to the campaign will be made available to the Commission which is interested in "stake-holder dialogues" for the science projects it funds.

In two of the 15 EU capitols Burnet and his department had to forego the usual bus ad space and resort to other means of transportation. In Amsterdam, where it isn’t possible to buy ad space in buses, the posters appear on bicycle-powered billboards. In Paris, the project was forced to go underground into the city’s subway network.

International awareness

The Bristol University department has already carried out one science ad campaign in China and has been asked to design another for the buses of Beijing. "The Chinese have a different approach," Burnet told DW-WORLD. "Their idea is not to encourage dialogue, but to make people more aware. Or as they say, to take science to the masses."

But before the GSU team starts creating posters for China, the group will head off to South Africa, where the country’s science ministry has asked them to design a local bus campaign.

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