Thursday, 24 April 2008

China Takes To Flash Mobbing

I think one of the first planning differences of opinion I had with another agency here in China was about an idea I had just presented to a client that the most useful ways a brand can get involved with their customers, particularly if digital channels are available, is to create community online (easy to initiate) and then push it offline (no better way to actualize) - as that's when the magic happens in my experience. I've been evangelizing about this for some time, probably too long now I think about it so sorry about that but new thinking shoots are peeping through.

I subsequently discovered from Sam's
China Internet Word of Mouth that there is a name for this activity in Chinese netizen culture and it's called Fubai FB for short or 腐败 in Chinese. The literal meaning of fubai is "corrupt." It comes from describing the act of corrupt officials freely spending to enjoy life. Within internet auto forums, the term has been appropriated to refer to the netizens spending their own hard-earned money to enjoy life through such "FB" activities as going out for good food and traveling. Often these "offline" FB activities are organized "online" within the forums, as the sense of community is very strong. "Online" friends, who are united by similar interests can quickly become offline friends.

Further evidence that this kind of activity is not restricted to the West comes today in the form of flash mobbing. I came across this possible first event in China last month but it was a Western organised affair judging by the participants. I twittered about it with Mark Earls blogging it later in the day on that occasion.

I then had a really good conversation with one of our planners here called Connie, who is ace and gives me all my China tip offs.
Connie explained to me on that occasion that the internet conversation with the Chinese revolved around 'what is the point?' of flashmobbing. Which is a fair enough cultural perspective on something so new. However I'm pleased to see that today, again through the brilliant Connie, that the Chinese netizens have come up with a constructive form of their own flashmobbing. It manifested itself yesterday at the same time in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Finally we have a point to flash mobbing, Chinese style.

The participants assembled outside bookshops and froze at a certain time with a book in hand to advocate that reading and literacy is a good thing. This is quintessential Chinese in so much as it takes a marginally subversive activity that could potentially be used for 'Mob Sourcing' ™ (Oh yeah. I like that) and is turned into something constructive with a point, while of course having fun and not unsettling the authorities. Here is another picture from yesterdays event in Beijing that appeared in the newspapers.


  1. bravo! a flashmob with purpose. my client here in the states jumped on board this flashmobbing idea and is trying to figure out how to make a stunt buzzworthy and get people to buy their product.

  2. Hi Windo. I think that's a very American response to 'monetize' new behaviours but for clients to get to the point where online communities trust them enough to get involved with their brand takes more than just the incentive of getting people to 'buy their products'.

    The thing about flash mobbing is that its self organising, non hierarchical and spontanous. These are all stripped out as soon as brand entitites barge their way into social media space.

    There are intelligent ways round this that I touched on in the post China 2.0

    Thanks for your comment though :)

  3. It was widly suggested before the evnet that the recent rickrolling flashmob in London was organised by a marketing agency. Wouldnt be surprised if this was why it was a bit of a let down with as many knowing spectators and cameras as participants.

    Incidentally, I sent this link to Clay Shirky as the first example of flashmobbing for good - he was impressed.