WBUR launches interactive ad campaign

A large touch screen went up at the MBTA’s 510 Boylston St. bus stop in the Back Bay, courtesy of public radio station WBUR.
A large touch screen went up at the MBTA’s 510 Boylston St. bus stop in the Back Bay, courtesy of public radio station WBUR.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Coming to a bus stop near you: giant, iPad-like touch screens that are interested in your opinions.

Public radio station WBUR installed the attention-grabbing interactive displays at five bus kiosks in heavily trafficked areas around Boston on Wednesday. The 4-foot-tall screens invite commuters and passersby to vote in a series of multiple-choice polls that range from the whimsical (“Kale: pro or con?”; “Which superpower would you choose?”) to the somewhat serious (“Would you let your children play football?”).

The goal is to get people to look up from their smartphones and engage in a thought-provoking exercise, an echo of the effect that WBUR executives hope their shows have on listeners.


“We want to start a conversation between strangers that they wouldn’t normally have, and give them a taste of the serendipity they experience listening to WBUR,” said station manager Corey Lewis. “Hopefully, the same civil discourse that goes on in ‘On Point’ will happen in the bus shelter.”

After selecting a poll answer with the touch of a finger, users are then shown how others at the same kiosk voted on the question.

Each question is inspired by content on WBUR. The kale question, for example, refers users to “The Dark Side Of Kale,” a wildly popular story on the station’s CommonHealth blog that asks whether eating too much of the trendy cruciferous veggie can cause hypothyroidism.

The interactive outdoor ads — a growing segment of advertising that seeks to engage audiences more, are the second phase of a campaign designed by Waltham-based Boathouse Group Inc. agency to increase WBUR’s listenership. In particular, it’s targeted at public-transit riders who don’t listen to WBUR’s terrestrial broadcast in the car but could be prodded to listen in on the station’s streaming smartphone app.

One kiosk is near Fenway Park, two are in Back Bay, and the other two downtown. The overall campaign consists of about $1 million worth of ads and services, but Boathouse heavily discounted its usual fees in exchange for on-air sponsorship plugs by WBUR.


In writing the poll questions, Boathouse art director Mark Nikolewski said he avoided any overtly controversial issues that would be more off-putting than inviting; there’s no poll on the ongoing presidential primaries, for example. He was also wary of playing into stereotypes about NPR.

“We wanted to have a sampling of questions that captured the in-depth sensibility of NPR but wasn’t too dry or trivial,” Nikolewski said.

However, he acknowledged some questions were cheeky and intended “to rile up the base.”

“I’ve been joking for years that NPR listeners love Steely Dan, and sure enough, we checked the archives and there was an On Point interview with Donald Fagen,” the group’s cofounder and singer, Nikolewski said. “So we had to include that as a question.” (The question is simply: “Steely Dan?” Answer: “Yes,” “No,” or “Who?”)

Poll results will be posted on WBUR’s Facebook page in eight weeks or so. The station also intends to compare data from the five screens to see if any intriguing differences among kiosks emerge — or if there are any smoldering hotbeds of anti-Steely Dan sentiment.

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielAdams86.