Are Flash Mobs Useful in Marketing?

June 23rd, 2009   •   2 comments   


Participants of one of Singapore’s first Flash Mob (Courtesy of nuffnangsg)

By now, almost everybody would have heard of the phenomenon of flash mobbing, which is essentially involves an orchestrated mass activity where people congregate in a particular location to perform a specific act. According to Wikipedia, flash mobs are normally mobilised through social media channels like viral emails, SMSes, social networking platforms (especially Facebook and Twitter) or other social media channels.

The most famous Flash Mob group on the planet is probably Improve Everywhere based in New York City which is founded by Charlie Todd in August 2001. With more than 80 missions under its belt, the worldwide group is probably the most prolific flash mobbing organisation on the planet.
Some examples of its brilliantly choreographed mass acts of performance include “Frozen Grand Central” below, where a group of over 200 “agents” suddenly froze in the middle of busy Grand Central subway station in New York. The video for this can be found below:

Another well-known example was the “Food Court Musical” where 16 “agents” suddenly broke out in song and dance, much to the amusement and chagrin of patrons:

Naturally, it wasn’t long before the commercial world hopped onto the bandwagon of mass performativity for promotional purposes. Saatchi & Saatchi in London helped put together the famous Liverpool Train Station dance for its client T-Mobile. 350 dancers broke into a “spontaneous” dance routine as song after song blasted from the PA system of the hallowed train station. Apparently the station had to close for 90 minutes due to the uproar caused by the performance which attracted more than 13,000 people!

Here’s the clip below for your viewing pleasure. The last I checked, it had close to 13 million views and is still rising.

By most measures, the Liverpool campaign managed to achieve its objectives. In the words of Saatchi & Saatchi’s client, T-Mobile UK’s Head of Brand Communications, Lysa Hardy, said: “Our new brand position ‘Life’s for Sharing’ is an exciting move for T-Mobile and ‘Dance’ captures this perfectly.” The campaign is also in the running for the prestigious 56th Cannes Lions advertising awards and touted as a potential winner.

Somehow or other, Flash Mobs appear to be more successfully executed in Western societies than Asian ones, at least based on those that I can suss out from the Internet. Here’s a pretty funny one originating from Japan where a mass of people run, huddle and squat much to the horror or surprise of their unsuspecting victim, which was done for a TV show:

Another more recent Asian example was held right here in Singapore. Nuffnang, a blog advertising network, got together more than 200 bloggers and social media users to participate in a Pajama party outside Heeren Shopping Centre along busy Orchard Road. Touted as their first blogger flash mob, this mass event featured heavyweight bloggers and was held to publicise the upcoming Singapore River Festival. Celebrity bloggers like Xiaxue and Sheylara rose to the occasion in their nighties, and a pillow fight ensued amongst participants during the activity.

A clip of the event can be found below:

There were apparently quite a few reports on it, some positive, some neutral while others offered suggestions for improvement. While the effort was certainly laudable, one can’t help noticing that there was a certain amount of randomness in how the event was perceived. You can read some of them here, here, here, here, and here. You can also read about TNP’s take on this event here here.

Will flash mobbing work in the long-term? Apparently, Improv Everywhere is still thriving despite being in the business for close to 8 years now.

Getting it to work as a marketing strategy however may be more challenging as people tend to be less forgiving of big businesses taking advantage of their naivety for commercial gains. Mobilising a huge group of people isn’t easy, especially in the more conservative Asian societies where people tend to be more inhibited. You have to reduce the degree of “squirming” which is inherent in any mass activity involving a large group of mostly amateurs who aren’t paid for their efforts.

A successfully executed Flash Mob event also requires a fair amount of coordination, choreography (right down to rehearsals) and a sufficient amount of “shock and awe” element. There must be enough movement and surprise to make people turn their heads rather than carry on minding their own business. Flash Mobs should also work towards building up the positive image of one’s brand rather than diluting it.

Having said that, Flash Mobs as guerrilla and buzz marketing techniques can be pulled off successfully if enough planning was done to ensure that execution is smooth and flawless from the word “Go”. T-Mobile’s earlier success has spurred yet another stunningly executed campaign, this time in the form of a mass karaoke in Trafalgar Square. What took the cake for this one was the “suprise” appearance of Pink which took the crowd by storm.

Do you think that Flash Mobs are a good way to generate publicity for a brand? How should one organise such an activity to generate positive word of mouth, long after the event is over?

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous
    posted on Aug 21, 2009 at 1:20 PM

    Interesting blog! Thank you for sharing!

    My questions:
    1) do you think we need a “cool” brand for such campaign to be successful? What if a brand that is traditionally perceived by consumers as “practical”, if not boring?

    2) How about South Korea? What sort of reactions can you predict for flash mobs for a cmoputer brand that is not normally perceived as cool?

  2. Jerrod
    posted on May 23, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    ROFL! The Japanese one was hilarious! The other videos were very educating too, thanks for sharing 🙂

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