SXSW "homeless hotspot" idea goes tragically (and predictably) wrong

What was BBH Labs thinking? Michael Sebastien at PR Daily is on the money in saying that “it might go down as one of the biggest PR disasters of the year.”

New York-based marketing firm BBH Labs equipped homeless people on the streets of Austin with devices that made them wireless hot spots. Internet seekers then paid what they wanted—in cash or via PayPal—to access the Web. The homeless men and women kept all of the money.

The media wasn’t amused, and now BBH Labs is licking its wounds.

ReadWriteWeb slammed BBH Labs, pointing out that these are people, “not helpless pieces of privilege-extending human infrastructure.”

The T-shirts that the people participating in the campaign wear say:

I’M [FIRST NAME],
A 4G HOTSPOT
SMS HH [FIRST NAME]
TO 25827 FOR ACCESS
http://www.homelesshotspots.org

Wired referred to it as something out of a “darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.”

It seems like the idea was ultimately about benefiting the homeless. I’m a huge fan of that, and anybody familiar with me and my work knows I have no aversion to risky and edgy, either. So I suppose I applaud to core concept.

But I’m also a big fan of thinking things through. “Risky” comes, you know, with risk. If you’re going to take chances, you have an obligation to game the potential scenarios, to anticipate where things might go wrong and to plan your way around the minefields.

It doesn’t look like BBH did a very good job on this front and now they’ve garnered lots and lots of exposure. Contrary to what you may have heard, all publicity is not good publicity, especially when the end result is that you may have actually damaged your cause.

xpost Black Dog Strategic

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