A FIRM THAT THOUGHT it was a good idea to turn homeless people into WiFi hotspots has had to defend that idea.
Marketing agency BBH Labs, part of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is at the South by South West conference in Austin, Texas, where it seized upon the promotional idea of making local homeless people into hotspots by giving them 4G connections and a sign.
"This year in Austin, as you wonder between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can't download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you'll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing 'Homeless Hotspot' t-shirts," said the agency in a blog post.
"They're carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access."
Once connected and wearing their signs these homeless people could then walk around the area making connections in return for donations. However, the reaction to them was one of shock, and the firm has been forced to defend the concept.
Comments under the original blog and elsewhere suggest that the company got this very, very wrong.
"It is sickening that people will only consider giving to the homeless if they can receive a petty luxury in return. Homeless people don't owe you anything," said one comment.
The firm, which is part of a marketing business you remember, was surprised by the amount of attention its pilot project received and vociferously defended its actions. It blamed one report for a lot of what it called misinformation about what it claimed was a charitable project.
"Obviously, there's an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villianizes us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we're trying to help: homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible," it said.
"We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever. Each of the Hotspot Managers keeps all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make."
BBH Labs has shut down the pilot project. µ