Prostitutes and Panhandlers as Advertising Media

Back in 2005 I wrote about “Bumvertising,” the unfortunate name given by Ben Rogovy to his company’s practice of hiring homeless people to hold placards with ads on them. The practice was roundly criticized — people thought it tasteless at best, and perhaps seriously exploitative. (I offered a limited defence: the name “Bumvertising is demeaning, but Rogovy was actually providing employment to people who desperately need it — which is more than most of us do for them.)

Now a Toronto radio station is playing on the same turf: an ad campaign for talk-radio CFRB has panhandlers holding signs that say “Should panhandling be illegal?” and prostitutes holding signs that ask “Should prostitution be legal?”

Here’s the story, from the National Post: Ad agency hires prostitutes for talk-radio stunt

As the snow fell Saturday night at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets, vehicles slowed to watch two sex workers on the corner. Some drivers honked. Others rolled down their windows to talk about the law.

The women held signs with a question: “Should prostitution be legal?”

The stunt is part of a controversial ad campaign created by the zig ad agency for CFRB 1010; it is its latest ploy to get people talking about issues in Toronto.

Again, as with Rogovy’s Bumvertising, I don’t see much of a problem here. Indeed, I can see even more plusses, here: the prostitutes in question were paid the “normal fee that they would get for a job,” for carrying a sign for an hour — in other words, they were paid the usual, to do a safer-than-usual job.

Now, the prostitutes involved clearly thought this was a good deal; advocates claiming to represent those same prostitutes disagreed, calling it exploitative. But as is so often the case, the charge of exploitation received no useful explanation: if “hiring” counts as “using,” then all employed people are being used. Is it “use” in the negative sense, just because they were being used to draw attention to an issue — and to provoke public debate? That doesn’t make sense: they were carrying signs asking a question that they have a legitimate stake in.

Thanks to Paul for the story.

2 comments so far

  1. Trey - Swollen Thumb Entertainment on

    I completely agree. The people who criticize these practices either aren’t bothering to use their brains to think about it, or they simply have other issues.I believe it comes down to the fact that these people don’t want to see the homeless, the panhandlers, and the prostitutes make anything of themselves. They like for these people to be in the position they are, because they are insecure in their life, and they don’t believe that everyone should be successful.

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Trey:Thanks for your comment, but I don’t see any evidence at all that that’s WHY people are objecting. You might well be right, but it kind of sounds like a random guess. Is there REASON to think that the people complaining don’t want people to be successful? Chris.

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