How to Tap into the Power of Flash Mobs

Last year I was walking around Downtown. For those of you who are familiar with Toronto, I was at the intersection of Yonge and Bloor – one of the busiest corners in the city. It is also one of the few intersections in Toronto that has a scramble.


As I was crossing, I noticed a bunch of men wearing sports Jerseys running into the centre of the street during the scramble.

Now – I do live in Toronto and normally this wouldn’t be very noticeable. But it was late November and well below freezing, so I stopped to watch.

Image courtesy of The Star

Image courtesy of The Star

A few seconds into the crossing, they began to shout, chant and move. As soon as the scramble ended, they dashed to the side walk to wait for the next red light when they could do it again.  Curious, I asked one of them what, exactly they were doing.

They were the Maori All Blacks New Zealand Rugby team, and they had a match with the Toronto team in a few days. They were doing a flash mob to draw attention to the match.

(Well, their exact words were something along the lines of ‘calling out the Canadian Rugby team’, but you get the idea)

It certain worked on me! And if the crowds hanging around the intersection were any indication, I wasn’t the only one.


A Flash Mob is a spontaneous public performance. They appear seemingly out of no where (usually starting with just one person) before growing to hundreds of people, then quickly disappearing.

My personal favourites are dances, but there are many different types. Pillow fights, standing still, random meals in the middle of the city – the possibilities are as odd and endless as human ingenuity.

The people who participate in them are from all walks of life. As to why people participate in them – maybe it makes people feel like they are part of something bigger.

Flash Mob America says that the purpose of Flash mobs, and the reason people participate in them, is to create Joy through Surprise





The brain child of Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harpers Magazine, tt all began in Manhattan in 2003.

Believe it or not, the first attempt at a Flash mob was a complete flob! The targeted retail store was tipped off about the plan for people to gather.

The first successful flash mob was on June 17, 2003 at the Macy’s department store. It worked by sending participants to a preliminary staging area – in four separate Manhattan bars, where they received further instructions just before the event began.  

Over 130 people converged upon the ninth floor rug department of the store, gathering around an expensive rug. Anyone approached by a sales assistant was told to say that all of them lived together in a warehouse on the outskirts of New York, that they were shopping for a “love rug”, and that they made all their purchase decisions as a group.

At the same time, 200 people flooded the lobby Hyatt hotel and all applauded for 15 seconds. A third group invaded a shoe boutique in SoHo where participants all pretended to be tourists on a bus trip. 

From there, the craze grew.


What’s so amazing about flash mobs is their organization. Ten years ago, it would have been nearly impossible for one to be held, and for information to be transferred as quickly as needed.

With the rise of Social Media and instant communication, it is now possible to organize simultaneous flash mobs around the entire world! Here are some ways people do it:

  • Facebook: Create a Facebook event with all the details of the event and invite everyone you know.  You can update the event or send messages to participants if plans change.
  • Kijiji or Craigs list: Put an add a free classified site for all those interested who don’t have Facebook accounts. Having your event on more platforms means more outreach.
  • Twitter: Write a couple of tweets explaining your event and linking to either you webpage, Facebook event or your craigslist add. People will retweet your tweet, adding a viral effect to your outreach.
  • YouTube: When all is said and done, post a video of the mob on YouTube and link to it in your blog / website. Others will embed the video or link to it, thereby exposing your cause to many more people than were reachable at the event itself.
  • Instagram: Post pictures of your mob on Instagram for the world to see. If you license them under a Creative Commons license, others will use your pictures online and spread your message themselves.


Of course, there is a dark side to Flash Mobs as well. On Tuesday of last week there was a Flash Mob Robbery at a 7-Eleven in Washington.


Over twenty people entered the store, and quickly overwhelmed the police and the store clerks. Too much was happening at once, so it was exceedingly difficult to catch any criminals.

Sometimes the particpants might not even be aware they are being used to commit a crime. Flash Mobs draw crowds; there have been cases that someone organizes a seemingly innocent event to act with the anonymity that a crowd can provide.

Not to mention the simple disruption that Flash Mobs cause.

Some cities are reacting to this by making Flash Mobs illegal. The city of Braunschweig, Germany has stopped flash mobs by strictly enforcing the already existing law of requiring a permit to use any public space for an event. In the United Kingdom, a number of flash mobs have been stopped over concerns for public health and safety. The British Transport Police have urged flash mob organizers to “refrain from holding such events at railway stations”.


It didn’t take long for Flash Mobs to use the attention they were getting to redirect to important causes.


As with any buzz worthy trend, many nonprofits and local volunteers have tapped into the viral power of flash mobs to help generate buzz and donations around a cause.

YouTube, Vine and other social media platforms have amplified the power of these not-so-improved improvisations by broadcasting videos of the acts and making them viral for millions of viewers around the world. A Flash Mob doesn’t last for just a flash any more, and the donations that one can draw can last as long as they are online.

Check out this one done at the Toronto Eaton Centre in 2010 to raise awareness of women’s cancers.




Organizing a flash mob advertising campaign is very cheap compared to using traditional media types.

Really, the only costs found with conducting a flash mob may consist of paying the public venue (I.e. subway station, train station, mall) a fee to either broadcast music over their speakers if its needed, and the costs of videotaping the event to post on the internet at a later time.

Mobile Phone Company T-Mobile is the reigning king of using Flash Mobs for advertising. 

In the last few years they did a ‘flash mob campaign’ called life is for sharing. In the end, they reached over 46 million YouTube views. Unlike traditional advertising, these videos were actively sought out by the public.

The one below is my personal favourite. 


Of course, this isn’t restricted to non profits or advertisers. Anyone can use the power of a Flash Mob to create Buzz about a topic or product.

Oprah and the Black Eyed Peas captured some of this by holding a flash mob to celebrate the 24th season of her show.



We’ve seen Flash Mobs in Canada, The U.S. and London. But what about elsewhere?T20 Cricket World Cup recently held a Flash Mob contest. The tournament was held in Bangladesh and ran from March 16 to April 6.

The official song was called Char Chokka Hoi Hoi. T20 Cricket World cup challenged groups around the country to hold and film their own flash mob before submitting it to their youtube channel. The video with the most views would be played in the stadium during the tournament.

Below is one of the winners


Flash Mobs are a powerful marketing tool for the Digital Age, whether your cause is for profit or charity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch a few more.

Char Chokka Hoi Hoi! 🙂


Just because AT&T has some great ‘Flash Mob’ style advertisements, I’m going to throw this one in. It might make you smile. It’s a fake Royal Wedding flash mob, populated with Look-a-Likes. Part of their Life is for sharing campaign.

Watch it and smile.



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