Amid all of the South By Southwest coverage, you have surely heard the buzz, both positive and negative, about Homeless Hotspots. For protagonists, the initiative by agency BBH is clever marketing and packs a powerful social message. Critics sees yet another crass, tone-deaf marketing effort that’s more about the marketer than the message.
The experiment involved having homeless people in Austin carry around special 4G wireless equipment that made them into mobile hotspots. For as large or small a donation as you wanted to give (the suggestion amount was $2 for 15 minutes), you could have WiFi access and help someone in need. Participants in Homeless Hotspots were from Front Steps Shelter and were required to wear T-shirts identifying themselves as “homeless hotspots.” Many objected to this, and the project in general as objectifying and exploiting homeless people and for being a kind of underhanded way of getting attention during the craziness that is SXSW.
Saneel Radia, head of innovation and BBH Labs, thinks critics have it wrong and the effort is a great example of using technology in a smart way to empower an ignored segment of society.
Can you tell me a about how the idea for Homeless Hotspots came about?
We were basically talking about SXSW, and one of the things that came up was the prominent homeless population there. Every year you can see that contrast between the population around where the conference is held and the conference attendees. So we started researching ways that we could help the homeless there, and one of the things that came up was the street newspaper. We looked into why were these papers so well praised by organizations, and it seems that it has a lot to do with the social dynamic, the engagement: giving them a change to connect to others. We thought this would be a great thing to bring to SXSW.
How did you choose the participants? How did they feel about the project?
When we talked to Front Steps Shelter, the case managers there presented the idea to the people there, and they seemed really interested in it. The case managers helped choose people at the shelter who are transitioning into finding employment, people who have started getting part-time work. There was very strong interest by participants. As far as a screening process, there was no screening process really. We just gave them a questionnaire. The only thing we screened for when it came to police records was violence-related crimes. Also, because the shelter population was mostly men, we made an effort to get some female participants. Financially we could only take the first 13 participants, so we took the first 13 who signed up.
How do you feel about some of the controversy that has arisen about HH and the objectification of homeless people?
We are by no means dismissive of the critiques of the program. We have listened. The good thing is that this was built with a bunch of experts in the first place. When we announced the plan, Mark Horvath (he founded Invisible People) ended up loving the idea and helped us figure out some of the mechanics of the project. There’s been a lot of early criticism based on misinformation. Especially by ReadWriteWeb.* But lo and behold, other homeless advocates have validated the thinking behind our program. We are glad to at least have started a conversation about an important issue and raised awareness about a population that is often treated as invisible.
*Radia later noted that the RWW article had been amended from its original, harsher version and that the author also apologized via Twitter.
Would you say it was a success at SXSW?
Well, according to Front Steps Shelter, it was wildy successful. Just look at what they are saying on their Facebook page. It will be successful when other street newspapers use this model or at least take something from this. That to me is the ultimate success. What’s been quite positive about the media attention is the number of street newspapers we are in touch with around the world. We are listening to all of their input, and now we begin the process of figuring where this goes from here.
Does BBH have plans to continue Homeless Hotspots in Austin and even in other cities?
We need to find the right partner to make it happen. Or we could leave it as an open platform that others can adopt. You will see something in the future, but it will be attached to another existing organization. It won’t be a BBH-owned property; that’s not our intention.
Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements
The success of recent brand activations is evidence that media and entertainment brands are the companies best equipped to build metaverse spaces that can dodge online skepticism, thanks to their wealth of owned IP.
How sunglasses brand Quay retooled its advertising to be less reliant on performance marketing following iOS changes
Prior to the iOS changes, Quay was spending the majority of its ad dollars on performance marketing tactics and influencer marketing.
What beauty brand Fenty can gain from Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show
Following a roughly six-year hiatus from music, Rihanna is returning to headline the NFL Super Bowl halftime show. The residual effects for her Fenty brand will be paramount.
SponsoredHow FAST channels are redefining primetime opportunities for advertisers
Sponsored by Vevo With the competition from content providers continuing to build, the traditional primetime TV slots are no longer guaranteeing the mass audiences they once did. Television viewership is evolving, and the primetime window of 8–11 p.m. is less broadly reflective of younger audiences’ content consumption habits. In 2022, attracting TV viewers is a […]
As destination travel takes off, the ‘Big Easy’ is experimenting with AR/VR to draw visitors
As travel, and travel tourism, return to pre-pandemic levels, New Orleans is leveraging AR/VR technology marketing to stand out and capture more traveler attention.
This charging company wants to reach electric vehicle drivers with digital displays
A company that makes charging stations for electric vehicles, Volta, is aiming to attract current drivers to electric vehicles with its educational ad spots through its social media channels, website, and OOH network.