Harper’s is running a piece by Bill Wasik (a senior editor at the magazine), inventor of the Flash Mob. He describes his experiment, and explains how the Flash Mob was co-opted by the Ford Motor Company, with pathetic results.
I had traveled to Boston last summer to observe a “Fusion Flash Concert”–a marketing campaign I had first learned of two weeks earlier, through a Financial Times column emailed to me by a friend. A “series of flash mobbing events,” the FT had reported, was “being staged by Ford Motor with Sony Pictures Digital to promote the launch of the new Ford Fusion car.” Weren’t you always concerned about this? my friend had written in the subject heading. I had never been concerned about it but rather had expected and even welcomed it, since co-optation of the flash mob by the nation’s large conglomerates would, I reasoned, be its final (and fatal) phase.
That had been a mere reference to flash mobs, whereas Fusion Flash Concerts was a true co-optation: Ford was itself appropriating the trend, and was doing so in order to make a product seem cool. By presenting myself as an interested member of the news media, I was able to confirm this latter point with Ford directly. Ford was, a spokesman told me by phone, “looking for cool ways to connect with their target audience,” at both a “price point” and what he called a “cool point.” The flash concerts idea, he said, had “a spontaneity and a cool factor that was attached to it.”
He invited me to come and see a flash concert for myself, and of course I agreed.