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Homeless Hotspots: how far is too far, and is that far enough…

By 13/03/20129 Comments

I’m not here to bash on another agency. But when they do something that gets a lot of traction and attention, in a positive or negative way, as a blogger, I cannot ignore it either. BBH Labs organized a campaign that polarizes the #SxSW visitors in two distinguished camps: lovers and haters. And haters with a vengeance.

What is the deal? BBH Labs equipped homeless people with a portable 4G hotspot, turning them into wireless access points for the data hungry crowds in the streets. People who want fast access can connect, and they give the homeless person a discretionary sum of money.  The homeless person can keep all of that money. The campaign reminds us how big newspapers used homeless people to advertise their newspapers in the sixties, by using them as human billboards, or reminds of the homeless magazines these people sell to make some cash.

The media and online world did not think this is a funny campaign. Words as inhumane, disgusting, appalling are used with ease. I have mixed feelings. Is it better to filter the homeless out of our #SxSW experience? Is it better to ignore them? Pretend they do not exist? What is shocking: the fact that a marketing agency uses homeless people in a very direct way, or the fact that we now get confronted with those homeless people, because that agency pushes them right in our face?

It’s not an easy question. I must admit: I never saw a homeless person in Austin before. Was my mind blocking them?  Did we not wander in the same streets? But the campaign made I met them. Second confession: I used the hotspot. Yes I was uncomfortable, yes I felt guilty.  I paid enough for a couple of months of wireless connection, out of pure guilt.

Is this not more like a business transaction? The homeless person offering a service and me paying for it? Is it more dehumanizing for them than having to beg in the street?

I’m confused, angry, sad, shocked, troubled. But it made me think.


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