13 March 2012
Yesterday's news from SXSW was dominated by the announcement
that BBH, one
of the world's leading advertising agencies, had come up with an
initiative within the festival (notorious for shoddy wireless
giving homeless people 4G mifi devices; thus turning them into
The homeless person wears a t-shirt announcing they had such a
connection; anyone in need of it would sit near them and use it;
and they'd pay for doing so.
So far, so appallingly exploitative.
However, the initial reaction (mine included, I won't lie), that
this was a stomach churning display of the haves and have-nots and
as low as humanity has sunk for quite some time, perhaps misses the
point and ultimately the goal of the stunt.
The twitterverse was in full, splendid voice about the idea -
labelling it vile, manipulative, degrading, insulting and
heartless, with people wondering how BBH could possibly have let
such an idea escape from the brainstorm it was born in. This
been in equally splendid voice.
The question though, is whether the point of the stunt was to
solve a long term problem with a long term solution, or whether it
was to raise awareness of the social problem, spark debate around
it and make people think about homelessness. BBH isn't renowned for
being a governmental think tank, it's renowned for its advertising
work and clever marketing - why should it come up with a
long term plan to solve the problem of homelessness? Surely if a
political party had suggested this we should be up in arms, but the
fact a marketing agency has should surely make us think 'is this a
Don't get me wrong, I think the idea of dehumanising the
homeless and making them merely access points for the privileged to
get their MacBook Air online is appalling, but I don't think this
was actually the point. The
Big Issue did a great job (and still does - to an extent,
although it's perhaps waned in recent years) of raising awareness
of homelessness without stuffing it down people's throats - perhaps
this stunt is actually a great bit of work in revitalising the
sometimes dismissive attitude ('no change, sorry mate'), many of us
take to a very significant social issue?
, SXSW | 3 comments
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