Captive Media’s urinal entertainment system shows ads on screens above each urinal and starts playing games when you pee Image: Captive Media
Finally, after decades spent wandering through the world of print, television, and the web, advertising has come home to its spiritual birthplace – the public restroom. Sure, there have been ad campaigns in the loo before, but Sharpie-scrawled messages on walls and band stickers on mirrors don’t count. What startup Captive Media has created takes the whole notion of making a splash to a different level. Higher or lower? It remains to be seen.
What the London-based company has built is a digital advertising display meets game console we’re calling the urinal entertainment system. Think of it as a Xbox, but with more urine and no game controllers. That’s right, it’s pee-controlled gaming, and the company just raised $700,000 from U.K. investors to keep its business flowing (sorry for that).
The urinal entertainment system, or UES if you will, is mounted at eye level right above the urinal and uses an LCD screen that merrily loops videos and advertisements until you walk up to the porcelain. Once you pause in front of the fixture long enough to unzip, it’s game on. Instead of using your hands on a touchscreen to play and pee at the same time (think of how difficult and unsanitary that would be), infrared sensors mounted below the screen shoot down into the urinal to detect the direction of your stream and feed that data back into the system to control the game. When your stream interferes with one of the infrared beams, the sensors can tell in which direction you’re peeing. There are even decals inside the urinal to help you aim (something that can’t be bad to have in even non-gaming visits to the bathroom).
There are five games that pop up at random on the UES, including On the Piste, where you speed down a ski run trying to hit penguins; Clever Dick, a trivia game which uses the direction of your stream to pick an answer, and Artsplash, a coloring game which I can only imagine is akin to drawing in the snow. The Captive Media website claims that the games make restrooms cleaner because “men are more accurate when they concentrate.” But if you’re concentrating on a screen while trying to improve your score, it seems just as likely you’ll wind up ruining your shoes.
Co-founder Gordon MacSween says the response has been “beyond his wildest expectations.” During the first night of live testing in 2011 in a Cambridge, U.K., cocktail bar, the UES was such a hit with a group of American servicemen that they spent much of the night in the bathroom trying to beat each other’s high scores, and coaxing others in the bar to head to the restroom to try it. That can’t have been weird at all.
Launched about a year ago at a London club, Captive Media has installed its urinal entertainment systems in 18 bars, hotels, corporate offices, and even a few private residences across the U.K., France, Spain, and Italy. The company’s next mark to hit is American bathroom users, who, while perhaps not in the same league as British pub goers by urine volume, still have to go on a regular basis. Expect the British bathroom invasion next year.
As you might imagine by the sophomoric tone of the whole idea, the games are a hit with guys. But according to MacSween, restaurant and bar owners are just as keen on the idea and are using the UES to advertise drink specials and other promotions on the screens. Cambridge bar Ta Bouche advertised a special on a house-created shot, and the bar reaped a 22 percent boost in sales of the cocktail, the owner says. But not every venue is in it for the advertising, some just want a gimmick to get customers to come back. “Lainston House (a five-star U.K. wedding venue) have the system purely for the customer experience, and because they know people will remember their visit and talk about it,” says MacSween.
And if you’re thinking guys get to have all the fun, Captive Media hasn’t forgotten about the ladies. But instead of toilet games (which would be incredibly awkward to play), there’s just wall-mounted screens to keep gals entertained while waiting in line. Though, considering how well guys have taken to Captive Media’s urinal games, it seems like lines are going to be a bigger issue for the men’s rooms from now on.