It's one of the oddest marketing campaigns we have heard about in some time and some might even say it's deplorable. A marketing company has launched a new program at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. It's called Homeless Hotspots and it involves turning homeless men on the streets of Austin into WiFi Internet hotspots; the men take donations from the public who can then access their hotspot.
The marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty is in charge of this "experiment". The Homeless Hotspot web site equates this effort to street newspapers, which are created to be sold by homeless people in a number of major cities order to support them. The company claims that the money donated for the WiFi hotspot access goes directly to the homeless person who has made himself a wireless Internet connection. The Homeless Hotspot web site names 13 people who are currently out on the streets in Austin that are participating in this program and even uses Google Maps to show where they are located.
As you might expect, the reaction to this program has been polarizing. Time.com quotes SXSW attendee Anniina Jokinen as saying, "Anyone else find using homeless persons as 'Homeless Hotspots' at SXSWi disturbing, dehumanizing, offensive?” There's no word yet if the Homeless Hotspots program will continue in Austin after SXSW nor if it will expand to other cities.
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