BRAND, Event

How to Flashmob

200 people broke into a short synchronized dance at a busy Mumbai Railway station. AND they weren’t pushed or shoved. The only movement caused was the ripple it sent through the social media scene.
Yeah, it’s discussed-to-death, the Mumbai Flash Mob. The unsuspecting crowd at CST was treated to a spirited performance on the ‘Rang De Basanti’ title track which by itself is quite an energetic number, dripping with Daler Mehndi. Though the timing chosen was a safer, less busy 5 pm on a Sunday (27th November), it was by no means a small feat. The organizer, Shonan Kothari, aged 23, apparently sent out mails to draw participants and 325 signed-up within 2 days. She had been preparing for this mob for a month, what with co-ordinating the dancers, teaching them the choreographed moves, seeking permissions from the station authorities, afterall CST happens to be the celeb amongst stations-has featured in RA-one(ermm..punitive damage, anyone?) , Slumdog Millionaire. The video of the Mumbai’s first flash mob, went viral since the time it was posted.

The Flash Mob Circus:
A Flash Mob is a group of people coming together and performing co-ordinated short and unusual moves(freezing, dancing) and then dispersing away. you need to get these 3 steps right –
Step 1- Coming together. Really important step, you wouldn’t be a mob otherwise, would you.
Step 2- Doing something in sync. People are busy and no one will care to stop if you just keep standing casually, that is if they haven’t run you over already.
Step 3- Dispersing. The most important step technically. The ‘flash’ part is kind of null and void without that.

Flash Mobs of the world famous variety
Modern Flash Mobs started around 2003, and since then, have become a worldwide phenomenon. Now they’ve have been around for a while, to the extent that they are considered done to death in the west. Braunschweig, a German city, actually banned flash mobs in 2009 after its authorities got tired of the frequency at which they were being organized.
Still, Flash Mobs are unbeatable in the mass-appeal they generate. Let us look at five very differently themed Flash mobs that quite nailed it:

1. Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Nov 2010:
About 100 participants treated shoppers at a mall food court to the Hallelujah chorus. This is considered to be the most popular flash mob of all time.

Why it worked: Holiday season video, great singers and super execution.

2. Frozen Grand Central Flash Mob, Jan 2008:
207 people freeze in place at the same time at Grand Central Station In New York.

Why it worked: Looks like a street play. People were even touching the ‘statues’ to see what had happened to them. And they did not move.

3. T-Mobile dance:
No discussion on flash mob marketing would be complete without the mention of the T-Mobile dance. T-Mobile filmed its ad ‘Life is for sharing’ in January 2009 secretly, after flash mobbing with around 350 at the busy Liverpool Street Station.

Why it worked: In the words of Ads Editor Darren Davidson, “T-Mobile have done this by capitalising on not just the TV but the vogue for social networks such as YouTube. People inadvertently become involved in the company’s campaign after spreading the ad virally online by forwarding it to their friends.”

4. Bristol Lightsaber Flash Mob, Feb 2010:
100+ Star Wars fans launched into the ‘biggest lightsaber fight’ (plastic ones) at Cabot Circus, Bristol.

Why it worked: Great fun again. Can you imagine the urgency with which Star Wars fans witnessing this would be texting/calling/sharing this with their friends. Talk about creating experiences!

5. Black-eyed Peas Major dance Mob, September 2009:
20,000 plus people broke into a choreographed dance to `I Gotta Feeling’ in Chicago at Oprah Winfrey’s Kick-off party for a new season of her daytime talk show(yawn! if it wasnt for Black Eyed).

Why it worked: The performance was great and the scale was largest ever. Worked wonders for Black-eyed peas and unsurprisingly, went viral.

Why do Flash Mobs garner such responses?
– mobbers use space differently than the rest of the crowd for a very short period of time, breaking the routine. Unlike an event were designated space is cordoned off, this space is not under their control
– there is always an element of gradual disclosure which shocks the teeth out of the audience
– very candid reactions, perfect to be videoed and launched via the electronic media
– the product naturally encourages -> Text-messaging, emails and social shares.

What does it take to make Flash Mobs work as marketing tools?

1. Aknowledgement:
It must be kept in mind that flash mobbing is not a sustained interaction with your audience, it is a more like a sudden burst. That is, you cannot organize flash mobs every month or so, unlike television or print ads.
They are tools to create buzz. So when you think you need that buzz around your brand, a flash mob is apt, whether it is for a new product/brand launch, getting attention to an existing one or simply repositioning.

2. Planning:
Just because most flash mobs involve music and dance, does not mean that that’s what’s most suitable for your mob. Plan the flash such that it reflects your cause. A nice example here is the Bristol Lightsaber mob we discussed before.
In addition, the Sky HDTV’s Latin America Flash Mob advertisement
involved supermodel Gisele Bundchen sitting with a remote control. Actors dressed as football players, soldiers etc came and went with the click of her remote.

3. Execution:
The most important step in the process. Organising a flash mob is perhaps tougher than doing a full blown event. All the necessary arrangements such as selecting a place bustling enough to ensure a wide on ground audience, permissions required to use the property, co-ordinating between the participants (who for obvious reason cannot reherse at venue) need to be taken care of. Getting all the ancillary in place, such as inconspicuous source of music, cameras etc. Failure to execute can ruin a very well thought out concept for the mob. The very first attempt at a flash mob by self-proclaimed flash mob inventor Bill Wasik is a great example. Inspite of having planned most of the details, the event was a failure since police intervened-permission had not been sought!

4. Follow-through:
If you’ve executed well and your flashmob was intriguing enough, its time to not be shy and tell the world. Social networking must be exploited now. You need to have your seeds in place to start the viral. Consider having an FB page for the event, tweet about it etc. Having said that at the end of the day #virality of your mob depends on the quality of your product, a nudge at the start doesn’t hurt though.

The Spoiler:
People are fairly receptive to flash mobs (commercial or otherwise) as long as the organisation ticks the boxes mentioned above. However, brands sometimes make the mistake of being too in your face with the whole marketing and branding side of things. This is not a good idea.
If people genuinely enjoy a flash mob experience and gradually learn it was promotional, that would not dilute the experience so much. Case in point being the T-Mobile flash mob advertisement discussed above. However, as can be seen from the failure of the Airtel mob in India suggests that being too obvious does not work very well. Here, they dance to their own tune, how needy:

Airtel `Har ek friend Zaroori’ dance in 2011 at Gulmohar Park Mall, Ahmedabad.

The India Story
For some reason this Flashmob phenomenon has not made it massive in India yet. Maybe its because we dont have enough crowded spaces ;). Sure, there have been flash mobs, like the Airtel one discussed or
IIMB for their festival Unmaad 2011 at Forum Mall, Bengaluru.

But they especially the IIMB effort was really bad. Trust students at premier management institutes to be creative dodos. Ripping off the Black Eyed peas gig, when they arent black eyed peas and then performing it like they’re near and dear ones had been held for ransom.
With the exception of these halfhearted attempts, it is too early to assess the scene since flash mobbing is at a nascent stage.However, the flash in the pan Mumbai Flash Mob would certainly encourage quality.

Take Aways
If there were 3 things we could advise brand champions in India to keep in mind while adopting the Flash mob tactic they’d be:
1. Keep your Concept easy to execute (understood well, seeking permissions also easier)
2. Your Brand is accomplice to the concept (theme more important than who is doing it)
3. Shock (If you cant create a flutter its not worth it)



One thought on “How to Flashmob

  1. Very Nice Article..

    Posted by riddhi2588 | December 7, 2011, 4:00 pm

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