couldn’t have said this better myself; touches on many different and important issues:
Earlier today, shortformblog defended its moral compass in describing the enlistment of homeless people to follow visitors to SXSW around as human 4G hotspots - for $2 - as cool, innovative and well-intentioned. Turns out that the people behind the initiative aren’t some charity, but the New York branch of the global advertising agency, BBH.
Devil’s advocate here: If they’re consenting adults, why should this be an issue? I’m not defending BBH, but come on.
Too often, people get who don’t understand charity will try to innovate in that space. Ad Agencies do this most often - they try to prove that they can tackle a serious brief with an impressive, innovative solution. They set out to show that they are able to take a long-standing problem and solve it with outside-the-box thinking - applying creativity and marketing experience into building a movement that gets people talking. They hope for shared awareness and quick numbers. These numbers are easily thrown onto a case study and later showed in meetings with big clients. The giant subtext is “If we can handle this huge, seemingly unsolvable human issue, we can definitely figure out how to get people to buy your mac and cheese.”
As you might be able to tell, usually, there’s a problem in this. Convincing moms that their old school mop isn’t as fun as a Swifter™ doesn’t carry any collateral damage, except for maybe the added waste that comes with one-time-use pads and plastic waste from the containers (seriously guys, mops are the best). However, applying creativity and messaging to a real human issue like homelessness has much more at stake.
In order to properly help someone in need, you don’t need to quickly solve what you perceive to be their need, your investment in them needs to inform the best way to help them. My favorite example of this is probably Kiva, a site that raises micro-loans for aspiring entrepreneurs in developing countries. Rather than just put a band-aid(™) on the problems of the developing world, they empower and support people who want to do it on their own.
Homelessness is a touchy issue here. It’s not an easy one to figure out. Letting someone follow you around so that you can check into SXSW events from your smartphone does not seem to be an abhorrently offensive idea. I think it’s slightly degrading, especially that they are helping you access internet on your 200 dollar phone. I mean, they might have limited access to electricity when they’re done working. Without getting to into the moral implications of this particular idea, it’s good to remember that just because someone is willing to accept an offer doesn’t mean it’s an admirable one. I mean, think of “Bumfights.” Those homeless men accepted money to fight each other. Of course, doing something illegal (like fighting) is different than someone working as a wi-fi hotspot, but the implication is the same.
Here’s my biggest point - creativity, messaging, and innovation alone cannot solve a human issue, at least not long-term. In order to do that, you need a giant heart for people - a giant heart that outweighs a willingness to make yourself look good. That willingnesss will almost always end in more destruction and brokenness. This doesn’t just apply to Ad Agencies, and it’s not just specific to people with selfish ambitions. Creating real change in people’s lives is a very strange, slow process, and it’s going to be a long time before anyone really starts singing your praises. When a group executes an idea like this, the primary thing they are looking for is accolades. Do yourself a favor and don’t give it to them. If their idea withstands the test of time, does genuine good, and is recognized by people outside of their own organization, give them all of the praise you want. Until then, don’t just be another stat on their media impressions. (I’m taking an exception here).
thanks so much! just a little insight into the world through my eyes.