Flash Mob 2.0 – Coca Cola Zero Skyfall-ing
I’m not sure how many of you have watched the video below, released by Coca Cola Zero in conjunction with the impending release of the latest James Bond film, Sky fall. The video has so far garnered over 3.5 million views so many people would consider it a viral hit (although, I would argue that considering how easy it is for things to go viral these days, we really need a new set of parametres to calculate success).
It is quite a clever idea. At a busy train station, average laypeople go up to a Coke Zero machine except that it is no ordinary machine. Once your drink drops, you get asked to input your name. Upon completion of that task, you are given a mission, ala Bond style. You need to get to Platform 6 within 70 seconds in order to get your hands on passes to catch the movie. Watch it for yourself.
Fun video right? I really enjoyed watching it. I thought it was very clever. The thing is, it is hardly original. For one, this isn’t the first time that Coke is using its vending machine as part of its promotions. Remember the Coke Happiness Machine? Or the Friendship Machine? My statement isn’t a criticism, I really enjoyed watching those videos and in that sense, it’s worked. But there was something else about the Skyfall one that seemed familiar.
To me, it looks very similar to videos of flashmobs that have been taking place in so many different corners of the world over the past few years. This have got me wondering if this is what flashmobs have evolved to – marketing gimmicks? It’s not a new phenomenon – organisations the world over have been getting flashmob organisers to organise events/videos for them and with good reason too. Flashmob organisers are able to mobilise average people (without too much worry about casting) and shoot good quality videos which look amateurish, or hidden.
In fact, it’s become a personal pet peeve that many people still call these organised events flashmobs. The pedantic person in me still hangs on to the original definition of flashmobs which is, as Wikipedia so eloquently writes, “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression”. The post also makes clear that it excludes ”events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals.”
At the same time, I’ve also become a bit bored of flashmobs (except those that I have been involved with, of course, because the thrill comes from being part of it and organising it). Few are original and many just appear to be repetitions.
So maybe it makes sense that such a unique concept is moulded to become a marketing tool. There has been many success stories over the years, and yes, the videos have all become viral. In fact, from a digital culture perspective, I find this most interesting because flashmobs – in the early days – were afforded by digital communication technologies. Most, if not all, engagement and crowd building were done via text, social media and email. Events like the MP3 Experiment, among others, also rely on digital technologies. Most of all, the point of the flashmobs – other than just having spontaneous fun – is to capture it all for the amusement of many others who can watch the video, recorded mostly by digital devices.
Now, these events are being organised mainly to produce that video which people hopes will go viral on – yup, digital platforms such as YouTube. And there’s really nothing wrong with this. I guess the only thing remains the issue of ethics – which many corporations and agencies have been grappling since the advent of advertising – as to which are staged and which are real.
If you’ve watched that video, you’d have noticed that those lucky people were running through a train station. Some people online have alluded to the fact that it was probably faked (as in Coke got actors to do it) because of the potential dangers involved (insurance hell, I suppose) from running around, slipping on orangers and the like. Having said that, reports seem to indicate that the Friendship Machines really existed and so Coca Cola didn’t have any problems with people hoisting each other up (although, if they made them sign a waiver form first, it surely didn’t appear in the video).
But whatever the truth is, in many ways, no one is answerable to anyone for that. At the end of the day, it is advertising so who can fault anyone for using actors?
My personal preference, however, would be that ads are declared. I say this because I think the reason why these videos work is because they take advantage of the social elements of the digital world we all currently reside in. It plays on the fact that it could have been any of us, and because we weren’t there, that we live vicariously through the lucky ones. That’s why we share it, not only because it’s a fun video but so that we can ask our other friends on our social networks if they encountered such a machine, or to look out for it. I think that such videos evoke a different emotion which changes the dynamics of video sharing as compared to say, discovering a nice commercial for a product we like.
The flashmob videos perhaps pioneered this dynamic. My preference is that this is acknowledged.
Note: Thanks to Kimberlycun‘s posting of this video on Facebook.
11.02pm Greenwich Meridian Time