Have you seen this?
Chances are you have or will soon. It's a video of flash mob descending on a retail store in L.A. Someone cues "U Can't Touch This," and suddenly, Hammer-panted dancers appear out of nowhere to perform a seemingly spontaneous routine amidst people buying t-shirts and jeans.
The difference between this flash mob dance and others, is that this appearance was carefully crafted by A&E to promote a new TV reality show about MC Hammer called Hammertime! (T-Mobile did a similar thing with their "Life's for Sharing" campaign, creating a huge dance party in Liverpool station, and that effort was clearly labeled a commercial.)
A&E is also being completely transparent about the whole thing on their site and on YouTube. A link to the show is in the video descriptor. However another "random" flash mob in gold pants descended on Santa Monica Blvd a month earlier to do a "spontaneous" dance to the same song in the same gold pants and there is no mention of an A&E show in that descriptor. It does make one wonder, doesn't it?
As someone who creates social media programs for a living, I am still processing this campaign. On the one hand, having a flash mob dancing to MC Hammer seems like a no-brainer marketing program to promote a new Hammer-inspired TV show. On the other hand, the subversive in me feels like it takes away from the spontaneity and sense of happiness and whimsy that are usually associated with flash mobs. (Did you see the way that customer ducked in opening segment, like she thought the store was being robbed?) And flash mobs aren't usually promoting anything except fun.
At the end of the day, though, here I am talking about it. Twitter is talking about it. Long-time Twitter power-user Hammer himself even chimed in with his Tweet this morning. He wrote:
Hammer pants! Viral marketing done well http://bit.ly/MgZHn (via @PerezHilton)
People are talking. And isn't that the point? I consider this a viral marketing success, but (if I am being nit-picky and I often am) at the cost of making what was once a free-spirited and exuberant phenomenon a little more, well, sell-out-ish. I never thought I'd one to defend the original intent and integrity of the flash mob phenomena, but if Britney decides to hire me to promote her next reality TV show, maybe I'll change my mind.
(Cuz I know you know all the dance moves to "Hit Me Baby One More Time.")