Bacteria boards redefine ‘viral marketing’

To advertise this month’s release of Contagion, Warner Bros. Canada commissioned two signs specially made with live bacteria, which gradually grew to spell out the movie’s title in storefront windows on Toronto’s Queen Street West.

Toronto-based ad agency Lowe Roche partnered with Curb Media in the U.K., which has created grass billboards and other natural sign media in the past. Curb’s microbiologists and immunologists tested different substances before choosing 35 strains of live bacteria and fungi—including penicillin, mould and pigmented bacteria—that were best-suited to create the effect and met Health Canada guidelines for safe use.

Then, Lowe Roche stencilled the letters and inoculated two large petri dishes with the bacteria. The boards initially appeared blank, but as the bacterial self-cultivated, the movie’s title was slowly revealed. The process served as an artistic interpretation of the worldwide spread of a virus depicted in the movie.

“By week’s end, we’ll be wearing an extra pair of latex gloves,” said Patrick Hickey, consulting doctor, at the time of installation.