California's Bay Area—home to nine counties, from Alameda to San Francisco—has always been an enclave of diversity, both in terms of ethnicity and cost of living. But thanks to Silicon Valley, median household income has skyrocketed to $153,057—about five times more than families who live below the poverty line, which clocks in at about $24,300.
Consider what this does to the cost of rent and other everyday expenses.
One in 10 Bay Area families (about 788,000 people in all) live below the poverty line. To raise awareness about this massive dissonance, San Francisco agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners took over a grocery store in the upscale Nob Hill neighborhood and charged regulars "Poverty Line Prices"—inflating products to five times their normal cost, with hidden cameras rolling.
Under "Poverty Line Prices," created for the poverty-fighting organization Tipping Point Community, four rolls of toilet paper skyrocket from $3.46 to $17.30. Monthly bus passes, which normally cost $73, jump to $365. And milk goes from $4.88 to $24.40.
Patrons were filmed freaking out over the markups:
"The Bay Area is a tale of two cities: the haves and the have-nots," says GS&P co-chairman Rich Silverstein. "We wanted people to get a small sense of the reality of living on the poverty line to truly understand the importance of Tipping Point's mission."
To calculate the prices used in the Poverty Line campaign, GS&P took the average costs of necessities and determined what percentage of a paycheck each item represents for a family living on the poverty line—whose figure is a federal standard guideline.
The resulting percentage was applied to the much higher average San Francisco take-home pay, gleaned from the U.S. Census Bureau. Average item costs were provided by expatistan.com, and textbook prices came from collegeboard.org.
So, in the case of eggs—which jump from $6 to $30 for a dozen—the latter figure represents the percentage of weekly income that eggs typically take up for a poverty-line family.
A matching coupon insert will run in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (a nice way to dampen the feeding frenzy around Black Friday—imagine books more expensive than a widescreen TV). And a website, TippingPoint.org, lets users plug in their incomes to learn how people below the poverty line would feel if they had to pay prices you might deem normal.
We gave it a go, using an $80,000 benchmark. The cost of milk rose to $14—far less than it costs in this campaign, but it still pinches. (Then again, we're not the Hilton family.)
Earlier this year, Canadian agency Wax used a similar approach to raise awareness for the territory of Nunavut, where a week's groceries actually can cost a family of three about $430. Sadly, there aren't many wealthy tech moguls there. The region is primarily home to indigenous Inuit, whose average income is about $14,000—well below the poverty line guideline in Tipping Point's campaign.
"Every day, more than 1 million Bay Area residents are forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying the rent, buying medicine and paying for school books," says Daniel Lurie, CEO and founder of Tipping Point Community. "Lack of financial resources is just one of the many challenges facing those living below the poverty line."
Tipping Point, which has existed for about 11 years, screens and invests in nonprofits that educate, employ, house and support Bay Area inhabitants who are too poor to meet basic needs. Since its inception, it's raised over $120 million to back its cause. And because the Board of Directors covers its fundraising and operations costs, 100 percent of donations goes to those in need.
Last year, it helped 22,000 people whose resources were dwindling toward poverty.
"In a region with so many resources and so much creativity, we simply have to do more to help break the cycle of multigenerational poverty in the Bay Area," says Lurie.
Having grown up in the Bay, we feel a particular affinity to this campaign. Silicon Valley has done the world a lot of good, but it has also transformed neighborhoods overnight—turning once-diverse enclaves into minimalist tech-friendly spots where "brogrammer" culture has stamped out local color.
While it's never been clear how to roll back the relentless advance of innovation-driven gentrification, GS&P is right in observing this may be a particularly salient sticking point today.
"Given last week's election, I think people are looking for some action to take—whether that be to protest or spread the word/educate themselves about an issue that's important in our country," says GS&P's PR director Meredith Vellines.
Users are encouraged to share the message on social via the hashtag #povertylineprices. They can also donate to Tipping Point's website.
Check out the Chronicle "coupon campaign" below:
Client: Tipping Point Community
Title of Creative Work: Poverty Line Prices
Live Date: 11/17/16
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Co-Chairman: Rich Silverstein
Associate Creative Director: Tristan Graham
Design Director: Chris Peel
Director of Content Production: Tod Puckett
Executive Broadcast Producer: Michael Damiani
Senior Art & Print Producer: Noah Dasho
Director of Interactive Production: Margarret Brett-Kearns
Associate Technology Director: Andre Cardozo
Interactive Producer: Tena Goy
Photographer/Retoucher: Quinn Gravier
Group Account Director: Michael Crain
Assistant Account Manager: Will McPherson
Brand and Communication Strategy
Head of Brand Strategy: Bonnie Wan
Deputy Director of Brand Strategy: James Thorpe
Director of Communications: Meredith Vellines
Director of Communications Strategy: Christine Chen
Sr. Communications Strategist: Alex Oztemel
Jr. Communications Strategist: Chloe Bosmeny
Group Research and Analytics Director: Margaret Coles
Jr. Quantitative Strategist: Ian Heath
Business Affairs Manager: Heidi Killeen
Business Affairs Associated Manager: Annie Holmgren
Company Name: EFilms
Director: Timothy Plain
Director of Photography: Jon Behrens
Producer: Jefferson Curry
Executive Producer: PJ Koll
Content Creative: Andrew Butte
Company Name: Elevel
Editor: Erik Johnson
Asst. Editor: Lori Arden
Producer: Ali Plansky
Track Title: Intricate Designs
Company Name: Elevel
Mixer: Dave Baker