Virgin Mobile Lets You Control Its Ad By Blinking Your Eyes

“Blinkwashing” taps neuroscience to capture a viewer’s attention in the hopes of hammering home Virgin Mobile’s great-deal messaging.

Humans are creatures of habit. Even when we know something is good for us (exercise, anyone?), we default to established routines. So when Virgin Mobile set out to convince cell-phone users that their low-price, unlimited data, LTE plans were better than competitors, it turned to the principles of neuroscience and launched a campaign to “Retrain Your Brain.”


The campaign began last spring with a hypnotic, hallucinatory journey captained by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. Where that ad illustrated the benefits of a Virgin Mobile plan through absurdist imagery, the latest installment, “Blinkwashing,” gives ultimate control of the experience to viewers. Devised as a webcam-enabled, YouTube-only experience, the interactive ad changes its visual content with every blink of a viewer’s eye while delivering a straightforward message about Virgin Mobile’s many awesome features (see it on YouTube here).

Created by agency Mother New York, the work was born out of research that showed people know Virgin Mobile offers great deals, but for some reason they still haven’t switched. “We decided that was crazy and a pretty serious hurdle to get people over. So we had some fun with neuroscience and hard sell advertising,” says the creative team. “When we created this digital experience we really wanted to get deeper inside people’s minds. Using this technology that enhanced your webcam allowed us to do this, making people think, are they in control of the video or is the video in control of them? And if we can lock in their eyes and attention for 2.5 minutes, maybe the messages will finally take hold.”

With the idea of holding a viewer’s attention by allowing them to control the viewing experience with their eyes, the first question was whether it was even possible. Working closely with YouTube and Rehab Studios, Flash and HTML were used to bring the experience to life.

The creative team says “Blinkwashing” works like this: “The technology first scans your face and locates yours eyes. When you blink in calibrating the experience, it detects the pixel changes between your eyes open and your eyes closed. Then every time it recognizes your blink during the experience, it randomly changes to another video, picking up the script precisely where the last video one left off.”

“There are over 2 million different possible combinations.”

In all, there are 25 videos each with bizarre mise-en-scène, including a feasting king, a weather girl, a breakdancer, field explorers, a pancake-eating gorilla, arm wrestlers, and a priest, a rabbi and a clown sitting in a bar. Each scene involves the same script while the images are changed at random. To achieve this, each word across the different videos was individually time-coded so the videos could seamlessly switch whenever the viewer blinked.

So, how many blinks can “Blinkwashing” handle (after all, tell someone not to blink and all of a sudden eyes are set aflutter)? “As many as you can muster,” says the creative team. “There are over 2 million different possible combinations.”


About the author

Rae Ann Fera is a writer with Co.Create whose specialty is covering the media, marketing, creative advertising, digital technology and design fields. She was formerly the editor of ad industry publication Boards and has written for Huffington Post and Marketing Magazine.