Digital billboards steer pedestrians to vendors of U.K. mag The Big Issue

Effort leverages GPS beacons to guide people to buy magazine sold by homeless or vulnerably housed vendors

Published On
Mar 16, 2022

Editor's Pick

A new initiative for The Big Issue, the U.K. magazine sold by homeless and vulnerably housed people, uses innovative digital outdoor tech to help pedestrians locate vendors as many return to outdoor spaces following the pandemic. 

The campaign, created by Forever Beta, uses beacon technology within Big Issue vendors’ familiar red vests to help passersby locate them. Each screen connects to GPS beacons within the jacket so that whenever the vendor walks close to one of the digital screens, the geolocation technology responds, triggering a supersized version of them on the nearby screen which then points towards where they are. Pedestrians can either go directly to them to buy a copy of The Big Issue, or scan a barcode on the digital screens to subscribe digitally. 

The technology went on trial yesterday (March 15) at the Westfield shopping mall in West London with two vendors and placements on three screens. Forever Beta is collecting data on the initial trial and hopes to roll out the initiative to a wider audience, Chief Creative Officer Paulo Areas told Ad Age. “We wanted to know how impactful this technology will be and we are working with the client to see how big this could be,” he said. “As well as understanding the impact on volume of sales, we also want to use the excitement of the vendors themselves to inspire other vendors.”

“You could see this as a very tech-driven campaign but it is about human connection,” added Matt Campion, creative director at the agency. “What’s really important to the vendors is being recognized and being part of a local community.”

He added that the idea engaged consumers at the trial site and was well received by the vendors. “There were people getting selfies with the vendors with the ads in the backgrounds," he said. "What a vendor needs is some connection to engage people with, and the ads sparked conversations.” 

Forever Beta created the campaign after winning a prize in Ocean Outdoor’s digital creative competition last year, securing £50,000 of media to spend on an outdoor activation. “Big Issue vendors are an integral part of our communities,” said Ocean Outdoor Head of Marketing Helen Haines in a statement. “This idea is all about helping them to regain their independence. It’s simple, yet brilliant and a worthy winner of our Digital Creative Competition.”


The Big Issue - Billboard with Lawrence


“This is a great campaign that draws attention to our brilliant vendors, who like many others, have gone through an incredibly difficult couple of years,” added Group Consumer Revenues Marketing Director for The Big Issue Nashitha Suren. “Often, selling The Big Issue is their main source of income. We welcome this opportunity to raise their profile in this innovative way.”

The campaign comes as digital media becomes an increasingly important part of The Big Issue’s business; it is also moving towards digital subscriptions and QR codes for purchase, as fewer pedestrians now carry cash. A campaign last year in conjunction with LinkedIn and created by FCB Inferno saw it setting up LinkedIn profiles for some of its vendors. It won a Creative eCommerce Grand Prix at Cannes.