Grocery Store Stunt Illustrates Life Below the Poverty Line

What life is like if everything costs five times more.

(Photo by Wouter Engler)

“Monthly bus ticket was $73, now $353.37,” announces a faux advertisement in cheery primary colors. “Cold medicine was $9, now $43.48.”

The digital signs are part of an ad campaign designed to nudge many San Franciscans to think about how much more expensive ordinary needs would be if they lived below the poverty line. Created by ad agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners for the low-income relief nonprofit Tipping Point, the campaign has two parts: a video in which grocery shoppers unwittingly find themselves paying “poverty line prices” and an interactive online tool that allows users to explore their own finances if everything they bought were five times more expensive.

Mashable reports that the campaign was inspired by the growing wealth gap in the city. As the prices of everything from toilet paper to rent skyrockets in San Francisco, residents below the poverty line — making $24,300 a year or less — suffer, earning only a fifth of the area median income, but facing the same high price tags.

To drive this point home, the ad agency decked out a small San Francisco store with signs advertising “Poverty Line Prices.” But when shoppers reached the checkout line, they were asked to pay prices five times higher than normal. In the two-minute video, shoppers react with disbelief and frustration when asked to pay $25 for a box of spinach or $27.45 for butter.

The interactive tool allows users to input their own income, or they can see results for a San Francisco salary of $150,000. Tipping Point says 1 in 10 S.F. households have incomes below $24,300.

Rich Silverstein, of Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, said the goal was to make these numbers personal, while avoiding cliché. “It was very important that it came across with the utmost respect for the integrity of the people of the Bay Area. We didn’t want to denigrate anyone who lives here,” he said. “There are traps you can fall into, and we tried to avoid those.”

Print ads will also run in the San Francisco Chronicle. Because of a board of directors that covers all operating costs, 100 percent of donations to Tipping Point will go to the individuals the nonprofit serves.

Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at

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Tags: poverty

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