Ad Fail?

The SXSW is an annual festival for film, music, and interactive gatherers. The 2012 SXSW festival, packed with tech hungry attendees, journalists, and bloggers, takes place March 9-18, hallowing over 20,000 visitors to Austin, Texas. Simple supply and demand economics yield that when 20,000 internet junkies congregate at one event, Wi-Fi bandwidth becomes a scarcity.

So it comes as no surprise that a project called “Homeless Hotspots” beta-test coincided with this year’s festival. The project turns Austin’s homeless into 4G hotspots for SXSW attendees to use. No joke. This is part marketing, part charity, part innovative, part very cool, part exploitive, and mostly very controversial.

Image taken from Discovery News article "Homeless People Are Wi-Fi Hot Spots at SXSW" by Nic Halverson

How do you know the person is a hotspot and what’s the cost?

They are uniformed in a T-shirt that reads, “I’m (name here), a 4G hotspot, SMS HH (name here) to 25827 for access.” A minimum donation of $2 for 15 minutes of Wi-Fi usage, though users can donate as much as they want. (One hundred percent of these donations go directly to the homeless participant you are using as a 4G hotspot. Participants are also paid $20/day.)

Seneel Radia, BBH NY’s director of innovation, explains that homeless individuals who hand out newspapers inspired the project; it helps to shift their newspaper sales into the digital age. Homeless participants are thankful for the monetary opportunity, but are most excited about the value of possibly changing stereotypical perceptions towards the homeless.

One homeless participant, Mark West, who became homeless after moving to Austin and pursued several unsuccessful job leads. He explained that “Homeless Hotspots” is “a great thing. [People] can see it from a different side, my side, instead of just stereotyping the homeless.”

Image taken from CNN Money article "Turning the homeless into 4G hotspots" by Stacy Cowley

Not everyone sees this project as a good cause.

Our thoughts: we agree with BHH and the homeless participants that this provides great opportunity for interaction and changed perception – though we wonder what will happen once SXSW is over. Therefore, we also believe that the execution of this project has not only exploited the homeless, but doesn’t really solve a problem. We’re not convinced that this campaign does anything to forward the cause.

Ultimately we want to know how it best benefits the cause, not how it best gets attention. How can BHH monetize this so it has a prolonged usefulness to the homeless? In other words, we’d like to see this turn from a project into an organization that provides training and stability to the homeless.

What do you think?

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