The flash mob, as a concept, has been around for several years. But what started as loosely-organized spontaneous dance parties has evolved greatly over its short lifespan. Much of this evolution can be attributed directly to one group: Improv Everywhere. They hit the scene in the early 2000's, and almost immediately starting thinking way outside the flash mob box.
Their biggest hit is the Frozen Grand Central, where participants froze in place inside Grand Central Station, wigging out the other travelers who were not in on the joke. Already, right out of the gate, that stunt represented an evolution in what flash mobs had been known for. And in the years since, they've only continued to get more creative, more subversive, and more innovative.
I've said it before, but Improv Everywhere has almost graduated from traditional flash mobs to full-on social experiments. Of course, that's just semantics. They're still coordinating ahead of time, showing up in a public place, and filming the surprised reactions of the bystanders---those are the qualities of a flash mob, according to my own personal definition.
Their latest work is called Carousel Horse Race. The location? Bryant Park in New York City... specifically, the carousel. The concept? A spontaneous horse race, complete with jockey, announcers, spectators, gamblers, and even a trumpeter. Check it out:
I wonder why there aren't brands lining up to hire these guys to help create engaging social video flash mobs? I suppose it's possible they already are, and maybe Improv Everywhere isn't interested. There's definitely an artistic quality to what they do... and almost civic-duty-like approach. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if they'd been offered cash to create branded work but simply turned it down. Heck, maybe they're too big, since they're basically a brand themselves at this point.
But imagine if the above video hit the web about 8 weeks ago instead of this week, and was "brought to you by" the Kentucky Derby. If I was a major brand, I'd be sending them piles of cash trying to get them to create a memorable piece of online video for my company.
But it's obvious they have their finger on the pulse of this kind of online entertainment. Every video they create ends up going viral, and it's always with good reason. Even though brands like T-Mobile are embracing flash mob videos for marketing--and executing them quite well, I might add--Improv Everywhere are still the kings of the genre. Which says a lot about their talent, when they can still succeed as well as deep-pocketed corporations.
Where will the evolution of flash mobs go next? How much more sophisticated can these things get? My guess... is that there's still plenty of room for the flash mob to grow, change, and evolve. But as a video style, it wouldn't even be on the map if it wasn't for Improv Everywhere.