Cash mobs aren’t so flash
For a moment in the mid-naughties, they were the coolest of all cool social media-fuelled meme-thingos.
I’m talking about flash mobs, the groups of strangers who gather in a public place to do something like dance a routine, freeze in a contorted pose or smack someone over the head with a pillow. At their best, flash mobs, which are typically organised through social media, are flickers of spontaneity, bursts of community in CBDs filled with busy suits.
In recent years though, they’ve become a whole lot less cool. That’s because they’ve been gatecrashed by another crew: the cash mob.
The cash mob being companies like Doritos, Dell, Milo, Kylie Minogue’s management and even the shopping centre down the road from The Punch’s Sydney bureau. All of them have employed the flash mob as a marketing tool in the past few years.
It has become a key part of their corporate marketing arsenal, genius marketing heads obviously thinking that the flash mob is a way to promote their awesome new product as something “hip”, “young” and “spontaneous”.
Companies spend ages preparing to hold a flash mob in Martin Place or Federation Square or Rundle Mall. They send out press releases weeks in advance, hire choreographers and professional dancing troupes and deploy company multimedia staff. Their teams think up a narrative for how the flash mob will promote the product to gawkers. All in the hope the video will go “viral” when it’s chucked up on YouTube.
The thing is, what’s awesome about the flash mob in its purest form is that they have no real purpose beyond a few spontaneous pranksters enjoying themselves. Their objective is just plain fun. The cash mob flash mobs betray the authentic ethos that the entire concept of a flash mob is based up on: you shouldn’t, after all, have to buy happiness in a tin of Milo.
It’s interesting to think about what the rise of the flash mob and the cash mob says about us as a people. How many Australians would take to the streets over something that’s not a whole lot of fun, or for something that they’re not getting paid for?
The same technologies that enable the flash mob and its mutant marketing offspring have sparked a fledging movement for fairness and democracy throughout the Arab World.
Taking to the streets means fighting for a cause, for a better way of life.
But for us, it means having fun and making money. All in a flash.
We should be so lucky. And you don’t need a cliche viral video campaign to tell you that.
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