Marketing and Public Performance [commercial flashmobs]

Photo via
Scene: Grand Central Terminal, NY, NY. Rush hour. Friday: Thirty people stare with mouths dumbly agape at an awkward team of Liza Minelli-lookalike dancers prancing up a stairway. Many record with their cellphones the robotic and sexy dancers who for some reason are both in Geishaface and carrying laptops like Vanna White would have were she so inclined. I’m unable to find a video of this, but perhaps it’s for the best. It would only bring back bad memories if you found it for me.

Why does this bug me?

It’s certainly true that the ‘art of marketing’ — if you can call it that without vomiting a little — learns from the trends and memes of ‘what’s hip.’ If it’s poppin fresh, odds are it will sell hamburgers. The new goal of viralizing one’s product has been one of the lessons marketers (who all tend to be young and enjoy fonts) learned from the digg generation (a universe I am not comfortable with). One example of this adaptation can be found in public confusion ads. They disturb me, so I’ll explain what they are and why they happen.

Essentially, the brand performs an act in public space with the intention of confusing the passerby. The end game is won when one passerby uploads the ‘happening’ on Youtube and produces a viral video. ‘Woah Intel Laptop dancers dancers wtf.’

We probably remember the display of Homer Simpson (painted in biodegradable chalk in Scotland) as part of the Simpson’s movie campaign, and the 7-Eleven’s rebranded as ‘Kwiki Marts’ strewn about the US, but the public-interaction events that rub me the wrong way are very different.

More perpetrators

Here’s another example, this time perpetrated by T-Mobile.

And another, (more fun) by Carnival Cruises (self produced video):

Like all good ideas, Each of these events were inspired by the one true creator. By that I mean people, uninspired by monetary compensation, who do things because it feels good and right: ‘Improv Everywhere,’ a NY-based improv group that has grown into an international body of public-pranksters can be (kindly) blamed for these new trends in marketing. Completely harmless, completely fun, and highly noncommercial. Their ‘no-pants day 2009‘ made NY the centerpiece of phenomenology (as Shephard Fairey would define it).

These exhibitions/performances are so interesting and exciting because they disrupt the trance-groove people invariably enter (especially in NY). Taking advantage of the disruption to sell a product hurts me bad. I feel cheated when something so enjoyable becomes a tool of commerce. Improv Everywhere is on the side of man. The flashmob who wants website hits is not.


Coverage by (the Grand Central Terminal stunt was for the Sony P-Series laptop)

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