Marketing agency BBH Labs, an affiliate of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is presently defending itself at SXSW, after unveiling "Homeless Hotspots," a promotional concept that involves giving homeless people a 4G connection and a sign.
BBH Labs discussed their Homeless Hotspots idea in a blog post - "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."
The business model is basically this - "they (the homeless) are 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." So, a user just finds a homeless person with a sign, logs into their network, and then can add a tip - or not. Once the connection is made, BBH hopes that the homeless would walk around the area to attempt to establish more connections and solicit more tips. Still, their business model has been met with shock.
A comment on BBH's site, indicative of the general response to the concept is this - "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."
BBH Labs, in an what sounds like a statement constructed by an Invisible Children PR rep, had this to say on the matter of strapping Wifi to homeless people (BBH calls them 'collaborators') to help bring awareness to themselves -
"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. 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."
One can ever track the 'collaborators' as they broadcast at SXSW, by checking the Homeless Hotspots site:
BBH has reportedly shut down the project.