The FINANCIAL — Twitter has given voice, and even a little personality, to potholes crying out for repair in Panama City, Panama.
Created by an advertising agency on behalf of a TV network, the Tweeting Pothole campaign (el Hueco Twitero in Spanish) places super-sturdy disks in potholes throughout the thriving capital. Each time a motorist runs over a disk, it tweets a complaint to the Ministry of Public Works.
Results came overnight. Tweets from “el hueco twitero” poured into public works amid prime-time reporting by the nation’s most-watched news show, Telemetro Reporta, whose parent network commissioned the project on behalf of its audience of pothole-weary motorists.
“Work on the first hole that tweeted started within 24 hours,” said Edwin “Pinky” Mon, who oversees the project as vice president / creative for P4 Ogilvy & Mather in Panama City. “They are reacting rather fast.”
In the first hour of the campaign, 50 tweets were sent as motorists drove through potholes. The Tweeting Pothole piled up 1,000 followers in the first 24 hours, and Telemetro Reporta enjoyed a nice ratings boost with its new segment, @Elhuecotwitero, Mon said.
Public Works Minister Ramón Arosemena later appeared on the show, telling viewers the pothole epidemic resulted from “years and years and years of neglect and bad construction” along with insufficient funding for road repairs. He added that he found the campaign to be humorous and helpful.
“On one occasion the public works crew got wind about where the Tweeting Pothole crew and the news crew were going to be — and they beat us to it. They fixed the street before we arrived.”
Every pothole that tweets, and even some that don’t, are getting repaired, Mon said: “On one occasion the public works crew got wind about where the Tweeting Pothole crew and the news crew were going to be — and they beat us to it. They fixed the street before we arrived.”
Now four months into the ongoing campaign, nearly 2,000 tweets have been sent, and the Tweeting Pothole has picked up more than 5,500 followers with over 6,800 interactions and 29.3 million impressions, Mon said.
“People from India, Ireland, the rest of the UK and South Africa wrote us to acquire the device for use in their cities,” Mon said.
The disks — five inches wide, nearly two inches thick and weighing 1.5 pounds — are made of medium-density fireboard, a highly durable, engineered wood-like product. Emblazoned with a sky blue hashtag on top, each disk contains a pressure and motion sensor and RF transmitter. When a tire rolls over the disk, the transmitter signals a nearby wireless receiver, automatically generating a pre-programmed tweet.
Six disk / transmitter pairs, which cost roughly $50,000 for production, fabrication and adaptation of the technology, formed the nucleus of the campaign. Crews from Telemetro Reporta, working with the P4 Ogilvy & Mather team, shuttled the disks from pothole to pothole, placing transmitters 30-50 feet away. Public Works learned of the pothole locations via the news show.
“The technology itself is not revolutionary or new — it could have been a guy standing on a corner counting every time a vehicle dropped into a pothole,” Mon said. “We feel that what made this fun and engaging was that we actually turned the potholes into characters, a superhero of sorts, with a rather funny personality.
“And we chose to communicate through social media. This turned the initiative into an open, real-time, constant conversation on the Internet, so loud that it went into the mass media and got results.”
Mon also took the agency’s video of the program to the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, which shortlisted it in two categories: response / real-time activity and use of social audience in a direct marketing campaign.
“It was a medium success,” he said. “We’ll get them next year.”