Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Flash mob evolution - even Microsoft stores are trying them now!

In March 2006, Bill Wasik, inventor of the Flash Mob, wrote a great report on how he created and grew the flashmob phenomenon - Harper's Magazine (March 2006 issue.)

He talks about how events moved from the original email he sent out ('Q: Why would I want to join an inexplicable mob? A: Tons of other people are doing it') through to discussing the MOBs at the New York shoe store, the Grand Hyatt next to Central Station and the dinosaur worshipping in Times Square Toys R Us. Bill discusses how the phenomenon grew and analyses the different stages of awareness, participation and media coverage.

Bill Wasik ran 8 MOBs and reasoned that the Flash mob craze would die out, thinking that 'co-optation of the flash mob by the nation's large conglomerates would, I reasoned, be its final (and fatal) phase.' This moment seemed to have come when in summer 2005 the "Fusion Flash Concerts" were announced, a 'series of flash mobbing events staged by the Ford Motor Company and Sony Pictures Digital to promote the launch of the new Ford Fusion car.'

However, this did not mark the end of flash mob gatherings. If anything 2009 has been the year of the flash mob - albeit slightly removed from the purity of the original mobs. The MOBs of 2009 have tended to be ad funded and corporately organised displays intended to surprise those who were not in the know, rather than random spontaneous assembly for no obvious purpose.

T-mobile were largely responsible for the re-birth of flash mobbing with a TV ad (subsequently uploaded to YouTube) filmed in Liverpool St station in London - now with over 15m YouTube views:

In March a Belgian TV channel then created a mass performance of 'Do-Re-Mi' in the Central Station in Antwerp:

In April Trident Unwrapped used 100 Beyonce lookalikes in Piccadilly Circus London:

Michael Jackson's death sparked global 'flash mob' performances of his dance routines - the highlight (probably) being this performance in Stockholm:

In September 2009, to launch the new Oprah season, Oprah hosted a Black Eyed Peas outdoor concert in Chicago - where to her surprise the crowd turned into a huge flash mob:

In October 2009 HTC ran a flash mob at Raffles Place in Singapore:

In October the Bondi Beach 'Say Cheese' performance became Australia's most significant contribution to the flash mob craze (a stunt to promote Flip):

Earlier this month Elf Yourself ran a flash mob in Union Square in New York to promote the fact that Elf Yourself is back for 2009:

3 days ago Janet Jackson appeared at a Janet Jackson flashmob in Los Angeles (a series of MOBs occurred across LA on the same day to promote her new album):

and Flash mobs are even now happening inside retail stores!

In October TV2 in Sweden ran a MOB in a Swedish IKEA store to promote the new series of 'Skal vi danse' ('Shall We Dance'):

and now we have Microsoft store staff dancing to the Black Eyed Peas too:

So why didn't mobs die when Bill Wasik predicted they would? The above are only a few of the mobs from this year, so why has 2009 seen so many? I think there are two main reasons:

1) Joy. It doesn't matter how many times this is done, being near or part of a flash mob / spontaneous outburst of performance raises a smile. With so many economic issues in the world this year, bringing happiness to people (no matter how tenuous the link) creates a positive feeling - a good context for an advertiser message.

2) Social. A flash mob creates Conversation. Those people who are present tweet about it, update their Facebook, take videos and upload to YouTube. Some of these films (or associated UGC versions) have huge, huge view numbers. Often the most effective way of creating buzz in online communities and social networks is to do something in the real world that then prompts people to share it in their virtual ones. Being part of an event gives participants something to talk about and the act of sharing with friends increases buzz and awareness (invariably it will prompt them to search out the info for themelves.)

Conversation (talking about the event) drives people to The Destination (the relevant video, channel, Facebook page etc). If the content is good, these visitors will then share it with their friends, who then talk about it, prompting even more people to visit the Destination. Thus an event can be far more cost-effective at driving coverage than a traditional campaign. (Not forgetting that it also instills joy and positive feeling into the message too.)

In 2003 Bill Wasik was surprised to see his MOB events featuring on blogs who were syndicating the email instrutions - but he did not object. He 'did not want anyone to learn the mob details without making human contact with another mob member, but blogs are by their nature such intimate endeavours that even the most widely read among them seem to foster a sense of close connectedness among their readers.' 'A mob spread partly by blogs was still, as I had intended, a virtual community made physical.'

MOB founder Bill was forward thinking, but in his mind it was all about email / blogs / WOM etc pushing people to the event. In today's media model it's the other way round. Advertisers are creating events to push UGC coverage, a physical community made virtual . The event drives the Conversation, rather than the other way round as Bill intended.

'Social media' doesn't happen in isolation, Conversation needs to be driven and then end up somewhere - and if the Destination is strong enough it will fuel further Conversation and keep looping and growing.

The kudos of spontaneous events may be diminishing, but so long as the event=social coverage ROI equation continues to stack up, there may be more legs left on the flash mob phenomenon for some time to come......

Related posts

The Destination and The Conversation - a model for social

Angela Merkel election speech ambushed by Flash Mob in Hamburg

T-Mobile karaoke flash mob in Trafalgar Square

Elf Yourself is back for 2009

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Luke Abbott said...

Hi Nick,

great blog some very interesting posts on it. I always felt the current marketing infatuation with flashmobs has its roots in the Stansted airport ad from a few years back. Its not exactly a 'mob' but a pre-organised group of individuals performing in front of an unsuspecting audience. Which is essentially what the subsequent flashmob ads are about. If that description of a flashmob is valid then perhaps the flashmob, in marketing terms at least, could be traced back further to 1999 and the video for Fatboy Slim's Praise You. Which no doubt helped in keeping the track in rotation on MTV and thus influencing sales. Although, I have to admit, I'm not sure how staged that video was.

Although I could be completely wrong!


FD said...

The Bondi Beach video you posted is the second flash mob in Bondi and was the 14th November´09 promoting a Mardi Gras Party.

The first flash mob in Bondi was for Flip, only 2 weeks before, with the double of people.

Not very original those aussies to make all the flash mob in the same place and with such a little time difference.