If you’ve ever walked past a homeless person begging on the street and pretended not to see them, this powerful ad for the New York City Rescue Mission will make you think twice about your actions.
Developed by New York City-based agency Silver + Partners, production company Smuggler and director Jun Diaz, the ad highlights the invisibility of the homeless by asking the uncomfortable question: “What if the person on the street was your loved one?”
In the ad, various individuals walk along a street and past their family members who were dressed and made up to look like they were homeless–none of the subjects stopped or recognized their loved ones.
The participants were recruited after being told they would be taking part in a documentary about people in New York. They were filmed by a hidden camera team as they walked to the building for the interview past a family member stationed there.
In an interview with Fast Company, Silver + Partners chief creative officer Eric Silver said inspiration for the social experiment came about after he commented on a homeless person while he and agency creative Howard Finkelstein were walking down a typical New York block.
Finkelstein hadn’t noticed the person at all and the two got talking about how often that happens, how it could be possible, and why that doesn’t seem shocking anymore.
Diaz said the hardest part of filming was talking to the people who were unaware that they were going to be shown evidence of them walking past their loved ones, who included a brother, wife and cousin.
He also stressed that the ad wasn’t about provoking shame and guilt. “The people were great. It wasn’t about indicting anybody. It’s not about the people we interviewed. They’re all great in their own way; just people trying to get by in the city the best they can–but when they found out what it was all for, they got behind it. But we had to make it very clear that it could have been any of us. I’ll tell you, it would have been me.”
Brilliantly conceived and executed, the ad reminds us that it could be anyone’s loved ones who are on the streets, and that the homeless people we walk past everyday are human beings who deserve dignity and respect too.