There Is No Bad PR . . . Really

Do a persuasion analysis on this.

BBH Labs, the innovation unit of the international marketing agency BBH, outfitted 13 volunteers from a homeless shelter with the devices, business cards and T-shirts bearing their names: “I’m Clarence, a 4G Hotspot.” They were told to go to the most densely packed areas of the conference, which has become a magnet for those who want to chase the latest in technology trends.

The conference in question is SXSW the Austin lollapalooza of music, fun, and technology. BBH Labs is one of the cutting edgy marketing firms that does what cutting edgy marketing firms do, hang on. So, they hire homeless folks to wear their t-shirt and function as roving 4G hotspots in a crowded conference that often overwhelms the existing wireless network through the sudden increase of traffic. This tactic certainly got buzz because it made the Persuasion Blog and the New York Times!

Of course, BBH Labs is also getting scorched. Read the NYT report for yourself about concerns over insensitivity, abuse of abused people, and worse, tone deaf marketing. And worser yet is how BBH Labs is responding to all this buzz and heat: They’re explaining themselves!

Of course when your explaining you ain’t persuading which is what you thought you were doing in the first place. You’re in the persuading business, not the explaining business. You’re in the persuading business, not the hanging on business. Like Invisible Children. Even the NYT notes that in a bottom quote.

Adam Hanft, chief executive of the marketing advisory firm Hanft Projects, said that even if the effort was well intended, it seemed to turn a blind eye to that disconnect. “There is already a sense that the Internet community has become so absurdly self-involved that they don’t think there’s any world outside of theirs,” he said.

So, mavens and muggles. Would you use this same persuasion Play for your efforts? Would you hire or fire someone for doing this? And for my academic friends. See any research possibilities here?

Kudos to BBH Labs. Keep hanging on. I admire your spunk. And pluck. And the gravel in your gut and the spit in your eye. You might like to read through the Primer, maybe the Rules, just as a refresher. Maybe scan the Persuasion Blog. Maybe hire an old guy who remembers reading from books and papers as a consultant, but not me . . . you’ve got my best shot right here.