BBC Digital "Faces" (partially lost BBC One/Two promotional advertising material; 2005)
"Faces" was a British promotional campaign created for the BBC in 2005, made to inform the viewer on how to get six extra BBC channels on cable, satellite services, and Freeview. It was made as a co-production between Conkerco, The Mill, Artem Digital, Red Bee Media, and DFGW.
The campaign focused on a large human head, formed by several smaller heads through CGI effects. While it was intended to be lighthearted and fun, it had the opposite effect on viewers; many complained that the visuals made them nauseated and/or overly disturbed. The main advertisement in the campaign racked over 1,300 complaints, resulting in the BBC withdrawing the campaign after only a month on the air. Most of the ads in the campaign have been preserved, but at least one commercial has yet to be found or preserved.
The advertisements were first announced on a Campaign Live article on September 23rd, 2005. According to the BBC's complaints report for April to June 2006, the advertisements were originally set to be broadcast between November 5th and December 23rd, though it ultimately ended on December 9th.
David Knight, known as revelationsr on YouTube, was working with The Mill at the time, as was Chris Rule of Conkerco. Stephen employed motion capture, 3D digitization, plus herding and flocking software to wrangle thousands of CG heads, "especially when you consider [we had] four weeks from the conform for the first 50-second main commercial.”
According to Tim de Lisle in an article on The Guardian called "Heads roll at the BBC", Artem supplied the technology for the ads. Chris Rule states the advertisements were "shot on film and only scanned / post-produced at PAL resolution," hence their absence from the Conkerco website.
The ads first aired on November 5th, 2005 and were scheduled next to programs such as EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing, and Neighbours. The ads' airtimes were during daytime and at peak. The 50-second ad features a giant animated head being held together by smaller heads, morphing into that of a lion, then the heads of John Simpson and Shakespeare, as it informs us of how to get the six extra BBC channels.
The ads received heavy complaints from viewers when they aired. They stated the visuals made them feel sick and/or disturbed, in an effect not too dissimilar to that of tropophobia (the fear of/discomfort caused by visuals of clustered holes or circles). One viewer complained about the advertisement and described it as "disturbingly psychotic". "It makes me feel queasy thinking about it," wrote another contributor, while a third described it as "absolutely horrible." Another stated they “made me feel physically sick and now I have to go out of the room when it is on”. Another said it was “hideous” and “demonic”. "As a registered psychotherapist, I wish to protest that this image is disturbingly psychotic. Its unacknowledged aggression could make a fragile viewer ill". Another entry reads: "I was having my dinner when the advert came on and it was all I could do to keep my food down. The images actually made my skin crawl."
The BBC regretted that the ads were disliked by people but it was originally meant to inspire people. "We have been very conscious that some viewers disliked the nature of the trail, although clearly, it was not our intention to offend. The Governors’ Program Complaints Committee (GPCC) says the trail should never have been shown before the watershed and has criticized the way the corporation explained the decision to stop airing it.
After the number of complaints regarding the ad ballooned from 400 to 1,300, the BBC chose to withdraw the campaign, and the ads aired for a final time on December 9th, 2005.
The original ad is currently viewable on The Mill's website, Stash Animation Magazine and various other websites. As of 2019, the original ad uploaded by revelationsr is no longer available on YouTube, but can still be viewed on Vimeo and Dailymotion.
One of the missing ads was featured in a sketch on Armando Iannucci's Time Trumpet, where Richard Ayoade states that the heads belong to 2,000 headless bodies. The ad is also available on some continuity/junction recordings on YouTube.
On June 12th, 2018, YouTuber Wesley Cracknell uploaded low-quality camera rip footage from his tapes of continuity on BBC One in 2005, including the Christmas ad, as well as the full female head ad with Bob the Builder.
Currently, 3 of the 4 ads have been found in full. There is a possibility that the missing ad is available on the BBC Redux website. However, this service is only available to those with a functional @bbc.co.uk email address. Two of the four ads (aside from the original and the Christmas ad) have been confirmed to feature the heads of Postman Pat and Bob the Builder, though the Postman Pat ad is yet to surface on YouTube. According to Aiden, an ad featuring Fireman Sam is rumoured to exist.
A screenshot of the ad featuring the female head was posted by Andrew in a blog post on the Biased BBC blog site.