Is YouTube resurrecting the flash mob?

Flash mob=a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.

These two words (not one word) caused such an early-morning ruckus at the office.

Are flash mobs passé, beginning to reach critical mass, or on its way out? I remember when Twitter quietly launched in 2006, managing to keep it up until this year when the brand just exploded into people’s consciousness, reaching what Malcolm Gladwell would call the “tipping point,” becoming a media and advertising sensation while the founders have yet to find out how best to monetize it.

I think a brand, product or service can incubate that long before it reaches critical mass.

Back at the office, some strong arguments pointed to it being a thing of the past. Since I instigated the early morning viewing, I was asked about it and said that it’s now part of our viral culture and depending on your objective, you can do your own flash mob of your own, if you choose to do so.

But would we recommend it to a client looking to do Asian American advertising? I don’t believe there is black-and-white answer to that. There are so many marketing approaches now that if you give a blanket yes answer, you should be able to explain why, how and what will work. Without sufficient, verifiable and unquestionable data, I never give an outright, no-holds-barred yes.

Being a published journalist) and being surrounded by lawyers half of my life and simply because I can really be fussy, I just said I do have to learn more about it. David Foster Wallace would have been proud.

Now think about this: YouTube was born in 2005. At the time, a friend of mine, like the rest of the world anyway, was thinking of launching their own general public video site. Back then, I would go to ifilm.com (not in existence anymore?) because it had high-res videos (which may have been the source of its demise, while YouTube invited anyone to upload their videos, even if it’s “pixielized” beyond recognition)

Now also think about this: The flash mob was introduced by Bill Wasik of Harper’s Magazine in 2003, two years earlier than YouTube. So the flash mob existed basically without a viral medium like YouTube. Think of it as having a burger without the bun, or for that matter, without the lettuce, tomato and other condiments; it’s not complete.

But with YouTube, the flash mob has found a home—and huge crowds are doing it either as a marketing tool or simply for kicks. All on YouTube: T-Mobile did one last January. Last week, IFC had a Bollywood thing going at Times Square to promote its mini-series “Bollywood Hero.” Beyond marketing, I have seen Stockholm and Paris pay their respects to Michael Jackson by dancing to “Beat It” recently.

So far, I have a particular fondness for what Belgium did this March. A flash mob to the tune of a Sound of Music song. You see kids, young adults, old people just having fun. If flash mobs remain a performance art, it might not become as popular but it would have retained the purity of its cause or non-cause. I’m all for that.

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