September 29, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Unbelievable. Homeless Hotspots–is this where marketing is heading?

Unbelievable. Homeless Hotspots–is this where marketing is heading?

My parents, friends, and long-suffering husband can attest that I am rarely rendered speechless. But the antics of marketing firm BBH Labs have me darn close. I honestly had a hard time believing this wasn’t a story that inadvertently made it into the mainstream media after having been sourced by The Onion.

For the handful who haven’t heard, this marketing firm equipped homeless people in Austin with devices that enabled them to become wireless hotspots. People in Austin at SXSW then pay via Paypal to access the Internet through these hotspots, and the homeless people get to keep the money.

Good grief.

So what we have are a bunch of people who a) paid a lot of money to be at and get to SXSW, who are using b) gadgets and mobile devices that cost hundreds of dollars, accessing the Internet by using (and there is no other word) c) homeless people as the means? How could someone have offered up this idea and not realized how patently offensive and thoroughly dehumanizing it is?

Wireless says it seems like “something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.”

Ragan quotes PR practitioner Richard Smith who said: “Watch ‘The Matrix,’ Brainstorm every sensationalist headline that could result, Don’t do anything to further that along.”

Read Write Web has perhaps captured the entire ordeal most succinctly: “You pay these homeless, human hotspots whatever you like, and then I guess you sit next to them and check your email and whatnot. The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall.”

The Verge carries a post by Laura June that takes a different tact, saying that the program raised awareness (so it was a successful marketing campaign).

It seems to me that there should be a better way of raising awareness of an issue than turning people into conduits to feed our Internet/hyperconnectivity addiction(s).

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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    The only thing more offensive would be for someone to write a “top 10 other uses for the homeless at SXSW by a possibly well-meaning but then again not so much marketing firm.” Stop me before I do it. 

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