AI depicts "banlieue" wrong, so Heetch and BETCh create postcards with "Greetings From La Banlieue"

Heetch spurs the entire banlieue into action to help Midjourney rectify an AI bias … with the help of postcards!

In its new ad campaign, "Greetings From La Banlieue", Heetch calls upon the 12.5 million inhabitants of the “banlieue” – the Paris suburbs – to reach out to the 11 Midjourney employees in an effort to rectify the worst prompt ever found on this generative AI: the “banlieue".

Since its inception in 2022, Midjourney's AI has revolutionized the way we interact with images. With a simple combination of "prompts", and descriptive text commands that the tool uses to generate its visuals, this AI can produce any image in a matter of seconds. However, among all the prompts available, there is one term that can transform any image into a nightmare with just a single word: "banlieue".
Banlieue means a suburb of a large city, and is obviously often used as a term in France in French newspapers, etc. As you can imagine, when the suburbs show up in the news, the photography with it isn't pretty, which in turn affects Midjourney's "eye".

So when you use the prompt "/imagine a wedding in France", Midjourney generates a happy wedding scene featuring a young man and his beautiful bride, both radiant on a beautiful, sunny day.

Yet, adding the word "banlieue" to the prompt - "/imagine a wedding in the banlieue in France" - will display two gloomy-looking individuals standing in an unclean street surrounded by run-down buildings.

This is just one of numerous examples. When you type "/imagine three young people in France", you will see three charming young women posing before the iconic Parisian backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and the city's famous rooftops. However, adding the phrase "in the banlieue" will generate a completely different image.

This unexpected situation was something Heetch, the leading ride-hailing app for trips to and from the Parisian suburbs, and its ad agency, BETC Paris, could not ignore.

The solution? Turn thousands of pictures from Heetch’s set of corrective data into individual postcards and spread them throughout the banlieue for people to use. On the back of each card is a preprinted address box, a QR code linking to the database, an explanatory note to the employees at Midjourney and, most importantly, a blank space in which every banlieue resident can add a personal message that will convince Midjourney to take action. 

Adding to that they made a collection of great photographs for "Greetings From La Banlieue" , showing the suburbs of Paris in a completely different - and very colorful - light. There are couples in parks, children playing, serene photographs of statues in front of beautiful old buildings, colorful street art, men with sheep, women on horseback, and details of brutalist buildings.

Renaud Berthe, Chief Marketing Officer at Heetch, comments: “AI and its risks and opportunities have recently been dominating media discourse. It is a formidable tool, but one that is sadly being fed unfortunate stereotypes propagated by the media, ones that we were already calling out in our previous ad campaign. This situation leads to biases in representations, ones that our agency managed to trace back primarily to Midjourney. Because the banlieue is of central importance to us, we believed we could do something about it ourselves by supplying the Midjourney employees with a set of corrective data: thousands of pictures of the banlieue, the real one, to bring a more balanced representation to their AI. This database was developed by Heetch. But how could we bring it to Midjourney’s AI experts in San Francisco, people who had probably never heard of Heetch or the banlieue, who were likely unaware of the obvious biases currently found in their tool?"


Olivier Aumard, Executive Creative Director at BETC Paris, adds: "We visited their corporate website and that's actually where we found the solution. As surprising as it may seem, Midjourney only has 11 employees. So, we decided to reach out to them in an uncommon – and unexpected – way to put our new database right in front of them, so that they can't ignore our message."

The result? Starting on November 6, around fifty different postcard designs will be printed on thousands of postcards and made available in bakeries and laundromats, at football fields, in sandwich shops and barbershops, in bars, cafés and restaurants … and in participating Heetch ride-hail cars. The postcards will also be handed out on the streets of the banlieue for residents to fill out. Heetch will then collect the cards and send them over to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. An unexpected way for the Heetch team to stand up for a cause that they have been defending for years: battling misconceptions about the banlieue.

Campaign: Greetings From La Banlieue
Brand: Heetch
Brand Managers: Renaud Berthe, Hector Gruyer, Benjamin Sousa
Ad Agency: BETC Paris
Agency Managers: Mathieu Laugier, Aude Devaux, Lara Lefort
Chief Creative Officer: Stephane Xiberras
Executive Creative Director: Olivier Aumard
Copywriters: Sebastien Duhaud, Matthieu Bouilhot
Art Director: Charles Dessaux
Traffic Manager: Nathalie Sanseigne
Creative Producer: Sebastien Lintingre
Production Company: Sovage
Director: Julian Nodolwsky
Sound Company: Sovage
Music Composer: Kamel Souiki
Photographer: Vincent Migrenne

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