Recently, National Grid launched a surprise dance performance in a Saugus, MA mall as part of its ‘Tap into Savings’ campaign. In many ways, this performance resembled a flash mob, with dancers appearing seemingly from nowhere to engage an unsuspecting crowd of shoppers, and then dispersing.
As a social phenomenon, the flash mob emerged in the early 00’s, enabled by Internet and mobile connectivity. While some flash mobs organize spontaneously, most are actually well-choreographed events that often captivate unsuspecting audiences where they occur. One of the most viewed flash mobs was a choreographed rendition of “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music in Central Station Antwerp, Belgium.
While flash mobs are no longer the rage, marketers have periodically embraced the medium, as they consider it a tested way to engage new audiences and promote viral marketing. Two corporate flash mobs are stand outs: First, in 2009, T-Mobile sponsored a flash mob in 2009 at Liverpool Station, London.
More recently, Wells Fargo sponsored a flash mob in New York City’s Times Square as part of their 2011 launch (rebranding of Wachovia) in the city.
Marketers in the green space have also embraced the flash mob, though primarily to make political statements rather than promote brands. One such statement was made by students at the University of Catania in Sicily in its “The World Has Been Stripped Enough” flash mob for the 2011 World Environment Day.
Intriguingly, as green marketers and brands try to engage a more mainstream audience, it seems that there is broader role that flash mobs can play. Specifically, flash mobs can:
Capture and hold attention. Flash mobs capture consumer attention through the element of surprise, and hold it by being entertaining.
Green marketers can take advantage of this by turning the event into a teachable moment, especially when engaging audiences that might not ordinarily tune into an environmental message. National Grid, for example, used its dance performance to teach shoppers about energy savings.
Reach fragmented audiences. As channels have proliferated and audiences become more fragmented, marketers have had to respond by investing across more channels in order to be able to reach their intended audience. In an ideal world, flexible creative assets can be produced all at once and then distributed across various channels. Flash mobs offer a great example of a tactic that naturally aligns with this shift.
Take T-Mobile, for example. While the flash mob captured the momentary attention of the surrounding crowds, it was also filmed for a TV spot that aired 36 hours later. Video cuts were also distributed through channels like YouTube and viewed by millions more users. This use of flexible assets enabled T-Mobile to get the most out of a single event.
Cultivate peer endorsements. Marketers recognize that consumer endorsements can influence the behavior and beliefs of their peers. Many marketers take advantage of this today by actively encouraging such endorsements as a key objective of the campaign. Interestingly, flash mob dynamics may facilitate consumer endorsement more deliberately, or perhaps even enable a marketer to stage it.
A flash mob sponsored by TVA Canoe, an Internet TV site in Quebec, provides a great example of this. In this case, flash mob participants effectively reversed roles with unwitting bystanders. To initiate the flash mob, a performer left an empty plastic bottle on the ground next to a recycling container in a well trafficked area of a mall. Shoppers filed pass the plastic bottle without much notice, while participants waited, blending in amongst the crowds.
Then, one woman, an unwitting bystander, picked up the bottle and put it into the recycling container. When she did, she was met with a standing ovation from the flash mob ‘audience’.
From a bystander’s view point, it looked as if fellow shoppers spontaneously broke into applause in response to an altruistic act by a peer. Such overwhelming praise has the potential, in of itself, to be perceived by consumers as a peer endorsement, reinforcing the positive behavior in the minds of the consumer audience
Transform brand enthusiasts into participants. It is important for marketers to remember that green consumers tend to be passionate about not only what the brand stands for, but how much they can reduce their impact by choosing one product or brand over another.
Marketers should cultivate this sentiment by finding meaningful ways for enthusiasts to interact with the brand and share those experiences with others. One way may be to invite enthusiasts to actually participate in a flash mob itself. What better way to engage with the brand? It certainly provides fodder for generating and sharing social content afterwards.
It has been a decade since flash mobs emerged as a social phenomenon. Over that time, marketers have embraced the medium to drive engagement and encourage viral marketing. Interestingly, green marketers challenged to engage mainstream audiences may find the flash mob especially useful in reaching target audiences and influencing behavior change.