The 'Poverty Line Prices' Campaign Uses Sticker Shock (And A Hidden Camera) To Encourage Empathy

The social experiment proved its point.

For a family in poverty, some of the toughest day-to-day decisions come when they're in line at the grocery store. Now an organization is giving you an opportunity to see what making those choices can feel like.

A Bay Area nonprofit called Tipping Point Community built a "Poverty Line Prices" ad campaign in conjunction with the ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Together, the organization created a tool that lets you adjust prices on basic goods to see the exorbitant relative cost if you, too, were struggling to make ends meet.

"If people don't know and don't understand how difficult it is for people living below the poverty line, then we're not going to be able to get them motivated and empathetic," Daniel Lurie, CEO of Tipping Point Community, told A Plus.

For the millions of Americans who are not currently experiencing poverty or food insecurity, the campaign is meant to show them how their life and purchasing decisions would change if they were. In the Bay Area, there are 1.3 million people struggling to meet their basic needs. And San Francisco isn't alone in this: in 2014, nearly 50 million Americans were classified as "food insecure."  

Food insecurity is a state of living without enough food, or simply lacking access to food that is nutritious enough for a decent diet. For those 50 million Americans, just like the 1.3 million people living in the Bay Area, hard decisions have to be made about whether to use money for food, rent, gas, healthcare, or other vital necessities.

To help illustrate what those decisions were like, the organization even filmed a hidden camera video at a local grocery store. In it, they jacked up prices on regular goods to help customers see what it'd cost to buy similar products if they had less to spend. Their reactions — which you can see below — were mostly outrage and confusion.


"Grocery shopping is something that we all do, it's kind of the common denominator whether you're middle class, wealthy or living below the poverty line," Lurie said. "It's hit people, often times, right in the stomach. It's like a gut punch."

Now you can feel what that is like using Tipping Point Community's interactive tool.

First, you choose your salary.

Then you pick an item.

And voila: you see what the relative cost of that item for people on the poverty line. Can you imagine paying these prices?

That Tipping Point Community is a San Francisco-based company is no accident. As Lurie put it, nowhere is the "tale of two Americas more apparent." Despite enormous wealth coming into the area, there is still a stagnating middle-class and a huge part of the city and region that is entrenched in poverty. 

And they've made their goal quite clear: give people an idea of how their life would change when faced with similar economic strain. Surely, for a family making $150,000 a year, a bottle of laundry detergent costing $58 would sound absurd. 

"We need to work together and we need to kind of blur these divisions among us, and we hope to do that with this campaign," Lurie said. "We really believe that everyone, if they do one small thing whether it's over the holidays or in the new year, then we can tackle this problem of poverty."

Want to try the tool with your salary? Go here.  


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.