T-mobile Dance: I came, I saw – but I did not Ecstasiate

Long announced if not long awaited: here is my take on Saatchi and Saatchi’s now-not-so-recent T-mobile campaign.

So, yeah… the mobile operator’s slogan Life is for sharing, was brought to life  – rather literally – in a flashmob style dance at London Liverpool Street station on January 15th 2009. So far so good: fantastic choreography, fantastic fun factor, fantastic experiential impact, fantastic viral potential.

Why, why, why, then, did I write that they got it wrong? Well admittedly, they came very close to getting it right, and it’s not all that wrong. I think the angry ex-T-mobile customer in me got slightly carried away there. But still, the idea could have been better managed and better taken through-the-line. The flashmob activity worked well. It was also excellent viral material, and viral is what it should have stayed. Because taking it above the line didn’t quite work: it cheapened the idea.

If you watch the video on YouTube now, you’ll see that the recent comments are mostly praise. But on January 16th, the day the video was uploaded, most comments were angry ones. And early comments are those of early adopters and opinion makers. As a technology brand, you don’t want to alienate those. One read “Oh well, yet another cool thing taken over by corporate evil.” At the time, I didn’t fully agree. In fact, in my book, if marketing borrows or steals from fads and trends in an intelligent way, and presents itself for what it is, it’s getting it right. Consumers are getting more and more marketing savvy. We know that, so let’s run with it: a brand asserting its marketing voice rather than apologising for it, is getting it right. It should go like this: “Yes, we’re communicating. Yes, this is marketing, but we’re bringing something to the table. You can take it or leave it, but this is good, so you probably don’t want to leave it.”

The T-mobile dance, besides being (again fantastically) on-brand, did what most flashmobs do: it was an unexpected moment of fun for commuters that morning, and it worked very well. I thought it was marketing as its best, engaging the public and enriching their life rather than interrupting it. Delivering it to viral life on YouTube made perfect sense.

However, I was soon less than impressed: T-mobile took the whole thing above the line as was.  “As was” being the operating and problematic phrase here. We’re entering an age where the balance between ATL and BTL is shifting. Ideas need to work TTL, of course, but whereas BTL used to support ATL, I think that soon, ATL will be supporting BTL. And as such, Saatchi and Saatchi had a prime opportunity to pioneer that shift. ATL advertising could and should have supported the flashmob dance activity. It should have teased, announced or hinted at it. And the dancing itself should have been a repeat operation, with many a repeat and many another scale. Because that’s where the real connection between brand and consumer happens.

In lieu of a conclusion, I’d like to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Flashmobs started in 2003 in New York, and they are way cool. However, before there were flashmobs, there was ImprovEverywhere, who started “causing scenes of chaos and joy in public places” back in 2001 and who are also New York based.  Their “missions” tend to be far more varied and inventive than flashmobs. Here are my three favourite: Frozen in Grand Central (which is probably their most famous), Food Court Musical, and Suicide Jumper.

Now, can I get a napkin, please?