SXSW in Austin is a mecca of all things Music, Film and Interactive. We’re talking Al Gore, Jay Z, Sean Parker and Springsteen. But even with 2 weeks of the industries biggest and brightest one thing generated more buzz than all the rest – the Homeless Hotspots.
What are Homeless Hotspots? Well, “Homeless Hotspots was a charitable innovation by ad agency BBH New York. It attempted to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations.” In other words, Ad agency BBH took 13 homeless people, armed them with a MiFi and a t-shirt and turned them into mobile hotspots. Attendees at SXSW were encouraged to donate money to the actual person or at a distance using PayPal. Each person was tracked on a virtual map allowing you to see where your closest “hotspot” was to you.
Needless to say there were a lot of mixed feelings about this. Even here at CCT we had a lively debate about the ethics around this. And the press went from the good: they are giving the homeless a job, they are bringing to light a situation where we can help, homeless and homeless advocates praising the innovative new look on an age old problem, to the bad: blatant publicity ploy, exploiting the homeless, confusion.
So what do we take from this “experiment”? I think you have to think about a few things when launching a campaign that can trigger very strong emotions. One, Just because you can, doesn’t mean you always should. Two, is all press good press? Three, are there other social problems that we can look at with fresh eyes and think of different ways to approach them?
No matter which side you sit on, one thing is sure, these guys know how to generate a buzz.