In June 2010, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a flash mob at a mall in Singapore. But unlike the nonchalant before picture that I had seen in million-hit viral videos, this flash mob came with a stage and an announcer who made periodic announcements of "Attention please. The flash mob will be starting in ten minutes". After exactly ten-minutes of eye rolling, the announcer came back on and said "Participants with token number 1, please line up to the left. Participants with number 2, follow them" and so on. After all the singers had been perfectly lined up, somebody fired up the music and they went on to sing an insipid version of 'I Gotta Feeling'. That event has now gone down into the record books as 'Singapore's Biggest R&B Flash Mob'.
It is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with flash mobs these days. Planned by marketing managers instead of the cool kids, measured by talkability points instead of amused stares, and almost ten years too late, nothing could be further away from cool. But just when we were starting to write them off, a new kind of flash mob has emerged.
Cash Mobs are a more socially-relevant, cringe-free form of the flash mob, where people try and reward local businesses that are struggling in the current economy by showing up in droves and doing their shopping. The first Cash Mob seems to have started last year, but the movement has gained momentum in the last few weeks, with mobs being organised in stores across the US. The businesses they try to help are usually traditional mom and pop stores like Emery's, the oldest five and dime store in the United States which has had a rough patch after a new construction project has diverted traffic away from it. Last week, over 800 people gathered there for a spot of shopping, and in just a couple of hours, the store had rung up a huge multiple of its usual sales. While a single visit is hardly enough to save a business from shutting down, the founders say that the purpose it to make people aware of local businesses, and to encourage them to change their shopping habits.
Find your local cash mobs by following @cashmobs on Twitter. You probably have about six months before the marketing managers get on board and ruin it for everybody.
Image: The mayor of Knox County at a local cash mob. By Kyle Grainger via Twitter.