Flash Mob Advertising

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The term flash mob refers to a brief, seemingly spontaneous peaceful convergence of people into a public place, performing some type of planned activity, and then disassembling quickly. These participants plan the activity (anything ranging from dancing, singing, to walking like zombies) over the internet. The purpose of these demonstrations is to leave onlookers stunned and entertained. The internet has helped to spread the popularity of flash mobs and advertisers have taken notice of the buzz surrounding flash mob videos posted on user-generated internet sites. From 2003-2009, many companies have utilized flash mob advertising in their campaigns to create brand awareness.


In June of 2003, Senior editor of Harpers Magazine, Bill Wasik, “staged a series of eight different flash mobs, sending out an email advising recipients of a date and time, a venue and some absurdist activity they were required to do” (Baker, 2006, p.14). “The first recorded flash mob of Wasiks was held in New York City on June 17, 2003 at Macy’s department store. More than 100 New Yorkers showed up at Macy’s, gathered around a $10,000 oriental rug claiming they needed to buy a love rug for their commune. After flooding the Macy’s help with questions for ten minutes, they abruptly turned and left. Since then, flash mobs and resultant publicity have proliferated all across the US and abroad” (Barnes, 2006, p 174). “Sean Savage, chief executive of a small software start-up in San Francisco posted one of the emails on his website, Cheesehikini, nicknaming the event ‘flash mobs’” (Baker, 2006, p.14).

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Reasons for using Flash Mob Advertising

Organizing a flash mob advertising campaign is very cheap compared to using traditional media types. Participants are usually volunteers contacted over the internet and are eager to take part. The only costs associated with conducting a flash mob may consist of paying the public venue (I.e. subway station, train station, mall) a fee to either broadcast music over their speakers if need be, and costs of videotaping the event to post on the internet at a later time.


Come up with an interesting theme for the flash mob that will catch and hold the audiences attention (Thorley, 2009).
Organize the event over social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, or websites that share a common interest. The buzz has to be sufficient enough to spread like a virus over these mediums (Thorley, 2009).
Take all risk assessments into consideration. Plan for traffic, crowd management and any licenses that may be required to stage such an event.

Choosing the right location is crucial for a successful flash mob. Pick a spot that gets high numbers of passerby’s (Thorley, 2009). Tourist traps are great locations for flash mobs.

Reach and Frequency

Staging a flash mob in a section of a city that sees much traffic will net the highest reach of initial views. T-Mobile launched a flash mob in a Liverpool train station that had hundreds of on-lookers. However, the highest reach and especially frequency of viewers occurs on the internet. Videos shown on sites such as YouTube may net millions of viewers.

“The typical participant in a flash mob tends to be white, middle class, in his or her 20s and 30s, technologically sophisticated and employed in a position requiring significant computer time” (Barnes, 2006, p. 179). “Flash mobbing attracts these consumers and their love of technology, new ideas, spontaneity and fun” (Barnes, 2006, p. 179).

Potential Risks and Drawbacks

“Flash mobs do no work if they are seen as soulless marketing platforms” (Thorley, 2009, p.20). For a flash mob to work as intended and reach the target audience, they have to seem spontaneous, fun and not motive-driven. The target audience of 20-30 year olds are very advertising and media savvy and recognize when they’re being marketed to. Flash mobs are also running the risk of becoming over-used and burnt out.

Safety is also a very big issue to consider when coordinating a flash mob. With the potential of having hundreds of participants involved, all measures need to be taken to ensure that emergency medical care is close by.

Advertisers and Companies using Flash Mob Advertising

T-Mobile launched one of the most successful flash mobs in Liverpool, England in 2003. This dancing flash mob was part of their ‘Life is for sharing’ campaign. The YouTube video of the flash mob has had over 18 million hits. “The event formed the central hook of T-Mobiles campaign, with television, radio, online and outdoor advertisements all being made from the footage-thus amplifying the live experience to a wider audience” (Thorley, 2009, p.20)

“Ford partnered with Sony to create a series of 11 free ‘flash concerts’ across the US in 2005 to launch its Fusion Car model” (Baker, 2006, p.14). “Since the Fusions launch in October of 2005, sales have risen an average of 15% every month, and 680,000 people have visited the concert website” (Baker, 2006, p.14).

“More than 8,400 flash mobbers from 122 countries registered on Swatch.com” (Baker, 2006, p.14) to participate in a Swatch Watches advertising campaign to launch their Autumn/Winter 2005 collection (Baker, 2006). These participants were urged to create and organize their own flash mobs, then post them onto Swatch’s website (Baker, 2006).

THQ organized a flash mob to promote their video game Resident Evil 5 in Sydney Australia. “The agency sought to create a spectacle in the streets of Sydney to gain coverage in mainstream mediums” (“PR Strategy,” 2009). The mobbers wore zombie attire and did their best impressions of walking and groaning like the dead while passerby’s looked on in horror.

Other Notable Flash Mobs

An example of a well known flash mob was the silent disco in April 2006 that took place at London Victoria station. More than 4,000 people gathered at the station. Every participant had their own portable music device and, at the same time, turned the same song and and started to dance (Leith, 2007). The police eventually had to step in because the scene was causing a major crowd. There were no arrests during the mob, and since then there have been several more Flash mobs at the station, including silent discos.

Another famous flash mob came during Oprah's 24th season kickoff party. More than 21,000 people came out for a free concert in downtown Chicago by the Black Eyed Peas to celebrate Oprah's new season. Everyone in attendance did a choreographed dance to their hit song, "I Gotta Feeling." Oprah was visibly stunned during the spectacle. The choreographer who thought out this event was the same one who organized the T-Mobile campaign in London.

Caption: Flash Mob in San Francisco where audience took part in pillow fight.


A famous flash mob group is Improv Everywhere. This group has carried out pranks around the country since 2001. They do not consider themselves to be "flash mobbers" since they came out two years before the trend actually started. However, they have done some of the more famous ones, including their "Frozen Grand Central Station" mission. They have done numerous missions, ranging from mimicking Best Buy employees to singing a musical in a grocery store.

Recent supermarket flash mob where shoppers froze for minutes. No apparent advertising ties.

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Arndorfer, J. (2009, Aug. 5) Bill Wasik ponders the life (and possible death) of word-of-mouth marketing in a social-media world. Retrieved October 24, 2009 from http://adage.com/bookstore/post?article_id=138314.

Baker, C. (2006, Oct). Getting mobbed. Brand Strategy (issue 206). 14-15.

Barnes, N. (2006, Spring). Mob it and sell it: Creating marketing opportunity through the replication of flash mobs. Marketing Management Journal (Vol. 16, issue 1). 174-180.

Leith, S. (2007, April 7) Dancing to the music of a virtual world. Retrieved March 4, 2010 from

PR Strategy. (2009, May 15). B&T Magazine (Vol. 59, issue 2692). 27-27.

Thorley, C. (2009, July). Feel the power of mass engagement.