Ad campaign depicts San Franciscans what it’s like to live below the poverty line

A San Francisco resident when he’s charged many times the listed price for groceries .
Image: tipping point, screenshot

The tech industry has put San Francisco at the heart one of the biggest waves of wealth creation in history.

But a huge number of the city’s residents have considered little of its spoils.

For them, the skyrocketing cost of living has turned everyday life in their hometown into a starkly different reality from that of its wealthier inhabitants.

That experience gap served as the inspiration for a new advertising campaign from low-income relief group Tipping Point, which seeks to set spectators in the shoes of San Franciscans living below the poverty line.

To do so, the nonprofit arranged a Twilight Zone -esque experience for some unwitting shoppers in a small downtown market.

The organizers decked out the entire store with marketing material for a seeming marketings promotion called “Poverty Line Prices.” But instead of ensure a discount when they reached the checkout counter, clients were confronted with prices five times more than what they’d usually pay.

A concealed camera captured their bemused and irritated reactions as a straight-faced cashier acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

The two-minute online video is paired with an interactive tool where guests can get a sense of how much more expensive rent and other various living expenses would feel were their own income below the poverty line.

The stunt was the brainchild of San Francisco ad agency Goodby, Silverstein& Partners, which partnered with Tipping Point on a pro bono basis for the campaign.

Rich Silverstein, a partner and co-chairman at the agency, said the goal was to bring about empathy for low-income residents without making their predicament seem pitiful or dishonor spectators into feeling bad.

He said the agency tried hard to avoid some of the clichs that sometimes infect charity advertising of this kind.

“In many routes, it’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities.'”

“It was very important that it came across with the utmost respect for the integrity of the people of the Bay Area. We didn’t want to belittle anyone who lives here, ” Silverstein said. “There are traps you can fall into, and we tried to avoid those.”

Eventually, the agency’s creative squad realized that the embarrassing disparity in the numbers was enough to tell a meaningful and straightforward tale on its own.

San Francisco boasts a median household income of around $150,000 well above of “the member states national” median yet Tipping Point says one in 10 households still subsist on incomes below the $24,300 poverty line.

“In many routes, it’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities, ‘” Silverstein says, quoting the famous opening lines of the Charles Dickens classic as an apt description of contemporary life in San Francisco.

Image: tip-off point

Image: tip-off point

Tipping Point has been around for more than a decade, but the campaign marks its biggest advertising effort to date.

“We’re well known among a few different groups in the Bay Area and the country but not as well-known as we’d like, ” says Tipping Point CEO and founder Daniel Lurie. “We just wanted to make something that made people stop and think.”

The group is unique in that it’s be permitted to put 100 percent of its donations towards those in need, thanks to a board of directors that covers all operating costs.

Since its inception in 2005, the nonprofit has raised more than $120 million, and last year alone, it helped 22,000 people move toward a path out of poverty.

Lurie said now seemed to be the perfect period for the group’s message, as the chaos of election season dies down and the holiday season approaches.

The campaign is running in only in publish ads and online placements for now but may expand depending on donated media space.

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