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Featured articlePublished by Jess Bordin · 3 minute read

The power of the public bathroom: saving lives across the globe for 40 years


The Australian company that pioneered bathroom advertising around the world, has just turned 40. Since 1984, Convenience Advertising, Australia’s bathroom advertising network, has delivered billions of messages and more than 5,000 campaigns across 14 countries. 

With a focus on high impact public health campaigns, the bathroom messages have saved countless lives, from Australia all the way to the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia, China, Thailand and Laos PDR.

In 1984, the HIV epidemic was spreading globally, with people who contracted the deadly virus facing huge stigma. Public health advocate David Stanley, who was deeply involved in the international public health response to HIV, established Convenience Advertising to reach audiences at risk with lifesaving, preventive HIV messages.

“I had the idea of putting messages into bathrooms, in venues that could be considered a locus of risk, such as bars, clubs and pubs. We trialled our first HIV campaign in Melbourne, and the results were astounding, with 13,000 calls to the HIV info helpline in the first two weeks alone. This told us the channel was very effective, that targeted out of home public health messaging worked. So, we took the idea national.

“Independent research commissioned by the Commonwealth Government in 1989 into the effectiveness of bathroom advertising, found the HIV campaigns delivered an average unprompted audience recall rate of 84%, with high reported usefulness, relevance and messages understood. With these results, we then took bathroom advertising to 13 other countries,” said Convenience Advertising Founder and Director David Stanley.

Convenience Advertising has since delivered thousands of international and Australian public health campaigns, from safe injecting in international hotspots, to the world’s first responsible service of cannabis program in the Netherlands (incl. 600 coffeeshops) which received national media attention, and HIV prevention in Thailand (incl. free condoms for international visitors) to the famous Australian First Nations HIV campaign, ‘Condoman’.

“It’s been a blessing to work with our partners, and most importantly, the affected communities, to deliver messages that we know have changed, and even saved lives. The ability to narrowcast, to take messages directly to the target audience, at the locus of risk has been extremely effective.

“We’re able to reach people in a private space, with minimal distractions, where they have at least two minutes to understand and engage with the message, whether it be to visit a website, take a multilingual information card, and nowadays scan a QR code. This remains a powerful way to reach specific at-risk audiences.

The last 40 years has seen huge innovation and change in the media landscape, through the way advertisers not only reach and engage with audiences, but how they track the level of engagement. Convenience Advertising has harnessed this change, with the use of digital screens, QR codes and new and innovative technology, and remains one of Australia’s most effective out of home advertising channels.

“The value of bathroom advertising has increased over time, and will continue to do so. The smartphone, coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, it’s a whole new dawn for prevention. The future of bathroom advertising is full of exciting possibilities. We’ve worked really hard to improve public health for 40 years, and we’ll continue to do so for as long as humans have the biological need to visit the bathroom,” said Mr. Stanley.

Convenience Advertising now partners with more than 3,200 venues Australia-wide – including shopping centres, parent rooms, airports, universities and TAFEs, pubs, bars, and clubs – and works with all levels of government, and commercial and not-for-profit organisations across the country to deliver high impact awareness, behaviour change and product marketing campaigns.