Flash Mobs – The Emperor Has No Clothes


If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of one “weapon” in the marketer’s arsenal it would undoubtedly be the continued use of flash mobs.

Initially flash mobs started a few years ago as a form of performance art, whereby large groups of people got together to perform a “unusual and pointless act for a brief time“. Needless to say these were more often than not very amusing and it’s obvious to see why brands would want to get involved in something similar. After all, nothing provides water-cooler chat more effectively than something a little out of the ordinary.

In an age when we’re all very cynical about brands and the messages that are being thrust upon us, to see a brand do something that has an air of altruism, can only be a good thing. Right?

Er, wrong. Well, wrong in the case of flash mobs anyway. Yes, we all know that some brands have done it well and with great success *cough T-Mobile cough*. But for every one that has, there must be 100 that are done excruciatingly badly. And the really good ones are an increasingly rare occurrence.

I thought I’d seen the worst of them when I saw this recent attempt by Dr Pepper. Earlier this month they gathered together a woefully under-rehearsed troupe of performers to sing a song amongst the traders at the NYSE. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end for all of the wrong reasons. It smacks of something the agency were forced to do because their client’s wife “came up with a really “jazzy” song and wouldn’t that be fun?”

Then, yesterday, came this effort from Dublin radio station 98FM. Cashing in on the current popularity of Glee, or at least trying to. A bunch of stage-school pupils performing a poorly choreographed routine (yawn), in the same location that all PR stunts are done (double yawn) and without anything resembling fun; just an air of smugness & showing off from the dancers (cue full on snooze). All over my Facebook & Twitter stream yesterday were people talking about how amazing it is. It is amazing though, amazing anyone pretends it was any good.

A quick aside: did anyone else notice the total fail that was the date on the opening captions too? Sigh.

Are we all really still supposed to stand around and look on with expressions of wonder and amusement when we see every single one of these? Not only are these examples of badly done flash mobs, but also, of the worst kind of laziness too, from client and agency alike.

So you want to do something that causes a real buzz and gets people talking about your brand? You want to bring a smile to people’s faces in the middle of a crappy day? You want to get people involved and genuinely do something with them at the heart of it? You want to do something that gets you some press coverage and goes “viral”* so that your brand/product’s name is the one on everyone’s lips?


Go for it.

But put some thought into it. And preparation. And imagination. Maybe even some budget. But more than any of that, at the very least, have a genuine idea at the heart of it: one that is borne out of genuine insight. Anything else is guaranteed to just look half-arsed and will quite rightly, make you a laughing stock.

And whatever it is that you do end up doing, please, I beg of you, please don’t let it be another tedious flash mob.

*And don’t even get me started on the misuse of the term, “viral”. Ugh!

6 Responses to “Flash Mobs – The Emperor Has No Clothes”

  1. I like Flash Mobs! even the bad ones, as long as they’re performance art. Hopefully the woeful results above will convince the agency types to go back to hard work and creativity and leave the performance art to the artists!

  2. I love good flash mobs – ie, T-Mobile’s. The 98FM one was beyond awful; the routine was so half-assed. . . there just seemed to be no energy, and there was nothing surprising about it. I really hope they’re not over, as I named my blog based on a flash mob pun. . . wow, I feel foolish!

    And I don’t think they have to be good to be performance art; flash mobs are performance art, but there is good and there is bad, and most of the bad ones shouldn’t have been done in the first place – they lack method, commitment or any kind of artistic vision.

    • unless someone does something new & interesting with one, they are very much over.

      they are all performance art, agreed. but when you attach a brand to it you need to do it well. T-Mobile’s was good but it was done with a genuine idea at the centre of it and was incredibly well executed. 98fm’s version, and Dr Pepper and 98% of all others out there are not – they’re arrogantly thrown together on a shoestring after a quick “brainstorm” as a way of getting cheap & easy PR.

      I swear to god, the next time I’m walking up Grafton Street and see one happening in the same old place, I’m just going to carry on walking… even if I have to walk through the middle of it. Probably complete with comedy yawn to boot.

  3. 4 Andy

    Flash mobs came about originally as abunch of strangers coming together to do something unusual.

    Unfotunatly marketing agencies grabbedthis concept, warped it and tried to make it organised.

    Flash mobs do not work when a stage school turns up and does a performance. That’s just busking under a current trendy name. They have to be spontaneous and unplanned (and no, making your dancers gradually start joining the routine does not look spontaneous stage schools!!).

    • I agree for the most part, but flash mobs are/were never spontaneous – they’re always pre-arranged to some degree. The use of them as a marketing tool shouldn’t be an issue, but only if they were/are done well and used sparingly. Like anything, if it becomes ubiquitous it loses the novelty value, and the unexpected nature of a flash mob was what made them interesting/cool/ memorable/worth talking about/whatever we want to call it.

      Doing a half-arsed job of it and bolting on a vague brand association is just plain lazy though. It’s arrogant & patronising to the consumer – which is what we’re supposed to be moving away from. Genuinely good flash mobs involve(d) the public (past tense because I don’t think there are really going to be any good ones anymore) and had an idea to them. The ones cited in the post don’t. T-Mobile worked as it was built around the idea of bringing people together, and in the spirit of a flash mob, it genuinely did. But that proposition won’t work for every product or brand though.

      Staging a badly choreographed dance at the top of Grafton Street is exactly that… it’s not a flash mob, you’re right, it’s a step up from busking!

      Gah, rant over 😉

  4. 6 Sam

    hey! I’m a huge fan of Glee, i just wanted to let you know that here in Spain we hado our own Glee Flashmob, and it was awesome! check out the video:


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