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Mob mentality: a flashmob implosion

Mob mentality: a flashmob implosion

An art form turned guerilla marketing staple, the flashmob has become so overused that soon it will need its own facelift, says Precious de Leon.

December 15, 2011 4:28 by

Guerilla marketing has long been in the dictionary of every marketer that is trying to think ‘out-of-the-box’. (There, I said it. You can get the cringing over with.)

Often in life we discuss notions of life imitating art and art imitating life but what we fail to look at is how marketing imitates and, in some cases, distorts art for use as an extension of the bigger communication strategy.

Flashmobs are the latest kind of art that has become quite the marketing novelty—that is, if you considering doing a marketing-related flashmob three years after it was popularised.

The original idea of the flashmob is to use the public space and daily life as centre stage and to encourage regular individuals to use the medium as a means of escaping the minutia of daily life, as its creator Charlie Todd explains in a recent TED talk. The flashmob reminds us old, grumpy people that it’s okay to play and that sometimes we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.

The flashmob is just one of Todd’s numerous projects under a group he created called Improv Everywhere, which he describes as “a New York-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and job in public places.

Once news of the flashmob went viral, pockets of groups around the world started to do the same thing. Individuals, most of them without any professional background, would gather together just to make a statement of solidarity or just for fun.

Of course the companies have taken notice. In the region, telco company du was one of the first to take advantage and then the rest followed, including one that was put together by Dubai Airports to promote its credit card, Dubai Connect.

The idea behind a flashmob, as the name suggests, is that it’s a surprise—a big group as in a ‘mob’ enter a public space and perform in a ‘flash’. But of course as more of these flashmobs are sponsored rather than grass roots initiatives, there’s a danger that it’ll look like an overly staged performance with trained dancers gyrating in a cordoned off on a dancing area. Like a regular dance performance that nobody bothered to announce.

And so the most recent one in the UAE flashmob in the UAE was put together by healthcare and pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, during the recent Diabetes Conference and marking the November 14 World Diabetes Day.

Well, it’s kind of a flashmob. The dancers were volunteers of all ages (which is always great), although extracted from a local dance group. But it was strange to see that prior to the performance there was already a crowd gathered around the performance area, with their cameras in tow. Maybe the ropes that circled the area gave them a clue?

“The dance will depict Diabetes’ Rule of Halves,” said Mads Bo Larsen, Vice President for Novo Nordisk’s Africa, Arabian Gulf and India Offices, told Kippreport. “Worldwide, only half of the people with Diabetes are diagnosed. Of that figure, only half are treated. And of those treated, only half are treated properly.”

After having watched the dance, we must have missed the whole Rule of Halves depiction, because we didn’t really see it. But we were hoping to see something a little different because with so many of these sponsored flashmob things, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out in a crowd of what I’d like to call sanctioned un-flashmobs.

Here’s a closer view towards the end of the dance:

Oh of course we’re not trying to be too harsh with this particular dance. It’s for a good cause. And diabetes awareness, after all, is important, especially in the UAE which is already seen as having one of the highest percentages of people afflicted with the disease.
The country registers 19.5 percent in the 20 to 79 age group afflicted with Diabetes as of 2007. This figure is even likely to increase to 21.9 percent by 2025, according to a report from the UAE Ministry of Health.

Headquarted in Denmark and with a strong focus on Diabetes care and prevention, Novo Nordisk also had a stand at Mall of the Emirates, where the sanctioned un-flashmob occurred. People could go to the ‘Changing Diabetes Village’ and get a quick sugar level test while learning about the many aspects of Diabetes. Though it is unclear if the company is bringing the un-flashmob to other parts of the GCC, the Village has been doing its rounds in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.

Then why choose a flashmob to (try to) depict diabetes awareness? Larsen tells what every other company executive hopes their own flashmob will be. He says “it’s going to entice people to come to our stand and get checked at our stall.” Sure enough there were hoards of people at the stand throughout the performance.

So it looks like there’s going to be more flashmobs in our future. But with consumers becoming more and more immune to the ‘not-so-surprise’ attack of these sanctioned activities, perhaps companies would do well to start thinking beyond just what’s around the box actually go farther.

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