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A piece of British television history

I remember thinking they were a bit odd at the time. There was another promo which featured BBC personalities ripping their faces off to reveal another, which I seem to remember got some complaints too.

The main thing that comes to mind now is how the BBC probably wouldn't get away with producing a promo so decadent these days.

I've actually uploaded a compilation of those promos to my YouTube channel, The Motley Channel. The campaign in question is known as 'Unmask', apparently.

Times change indeed. From what I was able to gather from old YouTube comments, there exists another trail where the heads form Postman Pat's head, brief excerpts of which can be viewed in the fourth episode of Armando Ianucci's BBC2 satire, Time Trumpet , which I've also uploaded to my channel.

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A piece of British television history

Greetings and salutations to you all! I am Cameron Murphy, an autistic Brit who moved to Scotland last year and is currently nearing the age of 18, and I think we're really going to know each other on the forums. I thought I'd start by discussing my opinions on an advert that has peaked my interested since I first saw it on Christmas Eve 2012.

I'm talking, of course, about the infamous 'Faces' trails from 2005.

The original promo:

Christmas version:

Another promo featuring Bob the Builder's head, recorded by YouTube user wesley cracknell in mid-June 2018:

The trails were first announced in a Campaign Live article on 23 September, 2005. The plan was to broadcast the trails from 5 November to 23 December across BBC One and BBC Two in daytime and peak. As you can probably tell from the videos embedded above, the ads were produced as part of a digital television campaign and was a joint effort by The Mill, Conkerco, Artem Digital, Red Bee Media (formerly BBC Broadcast) and DFGW.

The campaign features a giant animated head composed of thousands of smaller heads, informing the viewer on how to get the six extra BBC channels on cable, satellite services and Freeview. This seems like a blindly ambitious campaign to prepare viewers for the oncoming digital switchover, right?

Sadly, reactions from the general public were less than smooth.

Following an unforeseen turn of events, presumably in the Middle East, viewers were immediately turned off by the very concept of disembodied heads flying across the landscape. Most notably, one viewer felt the sight of the large head and its grinning expression was "disturbingly psychotic". "It makes me feel queasy thinking about it," wrote another contributor, while another described it as "absolutely horrible".

The BBC defended the campaign, stating it was tested with a sample of viewers before the trailers aired. The controversy drew comparisons with an earlier campaign from 2003 entitled "Cliffhanger", which depicts a rapt couple watching a woman fleeing from a raid and falling from a cliff to her death.

Finally, after receiving a staggering amount of complaints — ranging from 400 to 1,300 — the trails were broadcast for the final time on 9 December, before being quietly withdrawn three days later, a mere eleven days shy of its initial cut-off date. Around this time, a Christmas version of the ad, featuring a female head, was transmitted before being pulled after a one-time transmission, allegedly over fears of trypophobia (fear of clusters).

Commenting on the withdrawal, the BBC stated as such:
The digital faces trail was one of a very long series designed to capture the attention of viewers and stimulate interest in the BBC's digital services. The latest, which was first transmitted on 5 November, has been very successful in this respect and early indications are that it has achieved its goal. We have been very conscious that some viewers disliked the nature of the trail, although clearly it was not our intention to offend.

Personally, I think this was an ingenious campaign. The visuals, although dated by today's standards, are innovative for its time, and the heads, while off-putting to some of you out there, do an amazing job at representing the millions of viewers hooked up to Freeview set-top boxes during the mid-2000s, which I understand was the campaign's original intention.

The ads themselves are clearly a product of its time, but I respect what it was set out to do: stimulate interest in the BBC's digital services, even if their viewership took it the wrong way. Digital television has come a long way since DSO2, and the BBC is continuing to revolutionise their programming and the way we watch telly for generations to come.

Now all that's left is for me to ask: do you remember seeing these ads when they were first broadcast?