Everybody Dance Now: Flash Dances as Contagious Marketing

Maria Perille

Television commercials. Product placement. Celebrity branding. Digital signage. Mobile advertising. Flash dances?? Yep. A flash dance is just that: marketing. A very effective and contagious form of marketing, to say the least.

If you are not familiar with flash dances, then first go watch “The T-Mobile Dance” that took place in London’s Liverpool train station or The Sound of Music-inspired dance in Belgium’s Antwerp station. All of the dancers are professional and participated in several rehearsals before the public performance. At the time of the dance, though, the participants pretend to be surprised themselves at the sudden outbreak of dance and gradually join in as if they are inspired by the music. To unknowing onlookers, the result is extraordinary. In the bustling train stations, over two hundred dancers unexpectedly, and seemingly spontaneously, break into synchronized dance.

Both of these European flash dances were hugely successful marketing campaigns. The “T-Mobile Dance” was part of a British ad campaign for T-Mobile, and the Sound of Music dance was designed to promote a Belgian reality television show. A quick glance at YouTube can provide a sense of the widespread popularity of these two advertisements: the T-Mobile dance currently has over 14 million views, and the Sound of Music dance has over 10 million views. But how? There were no famous celebrity endorsements. Millions of dollars were not spent on a television ad campaign. Instead, there was just dancing.

Watching one of these dances without smiling is nearly impossible. The huge gasps and grins on the faces of unsuspecting passersby capture the gaiety of it all. The dancing does not explicitly tell the viewer why to buy a particular phone or watch a certain reality show. Rather, the advertisements’ effectiveness stems from the fact that they utilize emotion over reason in their messaging tactics. By doing so, they rile up the audience and arouse a connection to what is being marketed. You can’t help but want in on the action. After the highly charged dance, the T-Mobile ad concludes with the simple statement: “Life’s for sharing.” This basic truth is infectious and stimulating. Here’s the deeply profound secret: no one can resist the contagious spirit of a two-hundred-person dance party.

These two dances are not the last of the flash dances. Flash dances have turned into a social phenomenon worldwide. Amateurs and professionals alike are embracing the idea of dancing together for a purpose. Whether it is to advertise a consumer product or to raise awareness for the environment, as was the case in a recent flash dance organized by Power Shift that took place in Australia, dance parties are catching on. The nature of YouTube cannot account for all of the contagion. There is a more fundamental reason why flash dances have become such a social phenomenon. One of the basic tenets of effective marketing is a genuine desire to share and communicate something that you are passionate about to others in order to convince them to follow suit or think accordingly. In this way, T-Mobile’s tagline, “Life’s for sharing,” is also an explanation for the spread of this social phenomenon. Life’s for sharing. Exactly. People subconsciously want to market themselves and share their values with others.

We can better illustrate this point with a brief sequence of events: you first come across the T-Mobile flash dance on YouTube. The video elicits a strong emotional reaction from you. You start to value and appreciate the notion of flash dances. Now that you value it, you want to share your values with others. Not only do you send along the link to your family and friends, but you might even start brainstorming how you could organize a flash dance of your very own, thereby perpetuating the cycle. The social contagion continues. In other words, through successful marketing, others begin to attach emotional value to the concept and then want others to feel the same value because quite simply, life’s for sharing. What’s the point of valuing something if you can’t share it?

The reason that flash dances become contagious marketing campaigns comes down to one of our industry’s long practiced yet largely misunderstood principles: make an emotional connection with your audience. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s see those dance moves!

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