A New York advertising agency thought it would a good idea to use homeless people to be WiFi hotspots at a festival in Austin, Texas. Yes, you read that correctly. Homeless folks hired not to SELL wireless services but to BE a walking router.
The plan was to have a dozen local homeless folks walking with the wireless equipment throughout the event. Attendees wanting to use their laptops, PDA’s, iPads and other devices wirelessly, would ask the worker for the access code and then, hopefully, donate $2 for every 15 minutes spent online. Each homeless person was paid $20 for his or her daylong shift.
Seems simple, right? Seems like a socially responsible way to give jobs to those needing one, right? Seems like this could be applauded and rolled out nationally, right? Wrong.
I’m not an engineer or oncologist, nor do I play one on TV, so I won’t even comment on the potential alleged health risks of carrying such electronics for a whole day.
Had this program employed models [if could find any for $20 a day] or teenagers [if could find any to work a whole day], then probably not much fuss. But using [abusing?] and stigmatizing homeless people came off as a grab at cheap labor and not caring about their safety.
The uproar by groups that this was an exploitation of disadvantaged people has caused the agency to discontinue the program. Could this have been successful? Yes.
Marketing, like crisis public relations, has to be planned and [feedback & consequences] anticipated. Before launching, the agency should have:
* Asked a selection of national homeless-rights activists for feedback and endorsement.
* Asked Austin officials and beat reporters in the city for feedback and buy-in.
* Asked engineers and doctors about the possible health hazards.
* Asked about the hourly minimum wage for Texas ($7.25) and paid at least the $58, not $20.
* Last, but not least, asked a selection of wireless users in Austin about the idea and whether they’d support such a program.
Marketing is not rocket science. Consider your audience and then ASK them. If all signs “Go,” then proceed with reduced risk. If not, abort.
Perception is all there is and this debacle proved that even if the agency had good intentions, the botched implementation negated them…and that makes consumers skeptical of all marketing.