Introducing the latest in 4G hotspot providers: the homeless man.
At South by Southwest, which wraps up Saturday, ad agency Bartle Bogle Hergarty New York partnered with homeless advocacy group Front Steps to introduce "Homeless Hotspots."
According to the website, the campaign is a "charitable innovation initiative" attempting to "modernize the street newspaper," a print publication created and sold by the homeless to generate revenue.
There are 13 homeless men involved in the project stationed around the Austin Convention Center at SXSW dawning white shirts that read, "I’m [insert name], a 4G hotspot." Each is wired with a WiFi device and for a PayPal donation of their choosing, individuals can use the WiFi access for as long as they need.
The campaign spurred immediate backlash.
The brain behind the idea, Saneel Radia, head of innovation at BBH New York, defended the campaign, but said he understood the negative comments and that his company was "very open to this criticism."
"The worry is that these people are suddenly just hardware," he said, "but frankly, I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t believe otherwise."
Mitchell Gibbs, a spokesperson for Front Steps, also responded, telling Buzzfeed, "I think the fit [with Front Steps] is in empowerment, education, and encouragement of the client to earn an income while saving the majority of those earnings with a goal of moving to safe and stable housing."
Gibbs also added that the men showed "great spirit" and there was "so much energy" during training for the program on Thursday.
Buzzfeed interviewed one of the men serving as a "Homeless Hotspo" to get his take on the controversy.
"I would say that these people are trying to help the homeless, and increase awareness. They’re trying not to put us in a situation where we’re stereotyped. That’s a good of it, too – we get to talk to people. Maybe give them a different perspective of what homeless is like,” said Melvin, who has been stationed outside the convention center for the past four days.
This is not the first instance in which homeless people were used as marketing tools.
A company called Bumvertising has been hiring homeless people in Seattle since 2005 to display URLs and just last year film and television producers David Permut paid $100 to a homeless veteran to hold a sign advertising his new film "Youth in Revolt."
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