How TBWA Used Cash as an Advertising Medium to Draw Attention to the Homeless

A new app is worth more than money

On the way to work, I often passed a homeless guy, who’d made a tiny home out of a sheltered nook in a building being renovated. Along the edge of his mattress, he kept a neat row of spices for seasoning meals, and would often sit up on sunny afternoons to feed the pigeons. Sometimes people stopped to offer him groceries, which they hid behind a particleboard flap when he wasn’t there.

Once, he saw me passing and asked if I had a light for his cigarette. While I lit it, and fumbling for conversation, I finally asked, “Don’t you ever worry your things will get stolen while you’re gone?”

He smiled the horizonless smile of someone looking at a person much younger than himself. And he replied, “Look at this day. It’s so beautiful. Nobody can steal under the sunshine!” And he walked back to his mattress, where the pigeons were waiting to be fed.

Remembering this made me think there are so many people who are part of our communities—people we see every day, but don’t actually see anymore at all, partly because we’re busy and hassled and feel like they might ask us for something. Among many other elements, this is a tragedy of homelessness: Over time, they become invisible to us.

To gently correct this, and promote an app called Entourage, TBWA\Paris decided to use what it calls “the most viral media in the world.” Banknotes.

According to the video, a single bill can change hands over a thousand times a month. In “The Homeless Write to You,” homeless members of local communities are asked to write messages to us on bills—like bottles sent out at sea—stamped with a call to action: “The homeless need social connection. Download Entourage.”

The video was filmed documentary-style, with close-ups of the faces of homeless men and their messages. The faces convey a warmth that is all the more moving because we know they’re out there, seeking not just aid but gazes of human recognition—proof that they exist, that someone has noticed.

Examples of what’s written on the bills include this message from a man named Pierrot: “For me, Pierrot, homeless for 19 years, this bill has a lot of value, but not as much as a hello.” They were spread in the 2nd and 9th arrondissements of Paris—and even though they’ve been written on, the bills remain valid legal tender, ensuring they continue to move through crowds.

Created in 2014 by Jean-Marc Potdevan, a “human-focused” entrepreneur and former Yahoo Europe vp, Entourage enables Parisians to spotlight their local homeless and leverage the community to do things both for and with them, even if it’s just getting a coffee together.

That’s all. But already, that’s a world to offer someone with little left.

“By using these bills that remain legally valid, homeless people started spreading the message—a message that will keep on changing hands indefinitely,” the video concludes.

“So if you come across one of the bills, pass it on. And don’t forget that a bit of human warmth goes a long way.”

CREDITS

Entourage :
Jean-Marc Potdevin – Lucie de Clerck – Claire Duizabo – Joseph Ory
Anne-Claire – Pablo – Kenny – Rachid – Pierrot

TBWA\Paris :
Anne Vincent – Stéphanie Decombe – Martin Rainaut – Marie-Anne Tambuté

Executive Creative Director :
Benjamin Marchal – Faustin Claverie

Copywriter :
Vincent Pedrocchi

Art Director :
Cédric Moutaud

Art Director Assistant :
Valentine Foulonneau

CEO TBWA\Else :
Maxime Boiron

Agency Producer :
Ghislaine Byramjee

Production Company :
La Minga

Directors :
Clément Montfort – Morgan Le Pivert

Post-production :
Anne-Claire Girard (TBWA\Else)

Editor:
Quentin Colombet (TBWA\Else)

Head of Music and Sound :
Olivier Lefebvre