The SXSW – South By South West - music, film and tech festival normally this time of year generates it’s fair share of headlines but this year SXSW has generated headlines for all of the wrong reasons. This year the kings of social sensitivity BBH – marketing company Bartie Bogie Hegarty Labs – have put the homeless to work. Dotted around the SXSW conference were homeless Wi-Fi hotspots. Adorned with a T-Shirts identifying wireless functionality along with the hardware that allowed each homeless Wi-Fi hotspot to share their 4G connection to people nearby for a small donation.
With 4G hardware providing internet to a pocket Wi-Fi transmitter with which the homeless Wi-Fi hotspots were able to provide the essential internet access on the go. BBH paid their homeless Wi-Fi $20 up front along with a minimum guarantee of $50 a day for about six hours work, said Emma Cookson, chairwoman of BBH New York. It was recommended that the users tip their Wi-Fi access point, the suggested rate being $2 for 15 minutes. If you were willing to tip with notes you could even get the Wi-Fi hotspot to follow you around.
While marketing types are often stereo-typed as heartless shills, this really isn’t helping their reputation.
This is one of those subjects that generates extremely diverse responses, Some call it the opportunity of a lifetime, some call it exploitation. At the very least it has to be considered poor taste marketing at it’s hilarious best. From the marketing types that believe they are helping by providing an income to the socially minded who call it exploitation, the reactions have been widely varied and always emotive.
To be fair to BBH they did work with a Texas based homeless advocacy organisation before initiating this piece of marketing genius.
In truth if they choose to accept the job it’s not exploitation, if it were exploitation then we are all being exploited each time we walk in the door at our place of employment. It’s also not really helping the plight of the homeless a great deal either, especially when you consider that as soon as the conference is over very little will have changed for the homeless people involved.
This isn’t the first time the BBH has put the homeless to work, the idea was first tried in New York, but obviously New York has more important issues to deal with as it didn’t cause the same stir as it has in Austin Texas.
Is it a job ? In this crazy modern world being a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot does count as a part time job, though not a solid career path by any means. Will this soon be a career path for the elderly or unemployed.? Also, why have the disabled been overlooked, I would have thought that wheel chair bound disabled would make excellent Wi-Fi hotspots on wheels.