Question of the Day: Why Don’t Companies Advertise on Homeless People?

Callum Linley, an 18-year-old reader from Melbourne, Australia, writes to say:

So why aren’t there companies lining up to advertise on homeless people?

My guess is it’s an image problem – not wanting to be associated with the “failure” of being homeless. But wouldn’t that be compensated by the fact you could put forward the idea that you are a socially responsible and sympathetic company who cares for the less fortunate?

Well, the world already has given us Bumvertising and homeless people as wi-fi hotspots, and I wouldn’t be surprised if homeless advertising has shown up on TV (hey Simpsons and Family Guy and South Park fans etc., let us know). But how would you answer Callum’s question?  Does it fall into the category of:

a) Questions that are so obvious that they don’t need an answer; or

b) Questions that should be asked more often, but aren’t; or

c) Something else entirely.

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  1. Tim Keller says:

    If it is an image problem, pay them to advertise your competitors product.

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  2. Jup says:

    If you paid someone to be homeless, wouldn’t that diminish their incentive to take actions to not be homeless?

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  3. John Peschken says:

    I’m guessing it’s a combination of things.

    1. We don’t like being reminded that homeless people exist in America.
    2. It’s seen further humiliating people who are already maxed out on humiliation.

    On the other hand, I see people on street corners, holding and waving signs and often wearing clown suits or other costumes for “Super Sales” and “Going Out of Business” sales who I am guessing from appearance are homeless or near homeless. We may already be doing more of this than is generally realized.

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    • NZ says:

      I see those people too, but I think they’re mostly just teenagers who probably couldn’t get better jobs.

      I was going to make a joke that they were “bums, but not homeless,” but I guess I have to give teenagers credit for getting jobs these days, when most parents seem to let their teenagers it at home and play video games or God knows what.

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  4. Voice of Reason says:

    I think that there’s a pretty simple solution for why it’s not economic to advertise to homeless people. In order to justify spending money on advertising and to make money off of selling a product, you either need to sell it at high margins to a few wealthy customers (sports cars, country club memberships, financial planning services, luxury vacations, etc.), or sell it at low margins to a massive audience (Burger King, KFC, household cleaning products, white socks, etc.).

    However, Homeless people have almost no money to spend, but they also comprise a very small percentage of the population. So there’s really no reason for a firm to go out of their way to sell to that market. No bulk and no lucrative, high margins.

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  5. Dave says:

    My favorite current show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, had an episode where they had “hobovertising” to get the word out on a member of the gang running for office.
    For more:

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  6. Brian says:

    Done: Pizza Schmizza in Portland, OR did this in 2003.

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  7. steve says:

    Perhaps homeless people tend to make unreliable employees. By say spending their time in a subway instead of the shopping district.

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  8. Joe J says:

    Two thoughts come to mind.
    1. Isn’t that what some of the sign twirlers are.
    2. Most advertising is trying to associate (sometimes on an unconscious level) buy this product and you will be the person in the ad. Most obvious with beer and makeup commercials. Use our lip gloss and you will be a supermodel, drink our beer and you will be the most interesting person alive.
    SO associating on a subconscious level, use our product and be homeless, is not something any advertiser wants out there.

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