Two cents on the latest PR stunt from OSU

Last week, there was a 3-months in the making flash mob on the MU Quad at OSU:

While the title music from the Bollywood film “Salaam-E-Ishq” boomed through the air, first one, and then another dancer stepped out of the crowd to join in the energetic choreography.

In all, more than 70 Oregon State University students and staff — co-conspirators in the surprise event, which had been months in the making — shed jackets and sweatshirts to reveal bright orange T-shirts and join in the synchronized dance moves.

Except that, you know, an event three months in the making and run by an intern who is working for OSU University Marketing and planned the event as part of OSU’s multi-year Powered by Orange campaign isn’t a flash mob.  It’s a PR stunt.  One GT commenter says as much:

But this wasn’t a flash mob — this was a PR stunt, months in the making, with details planned right down to having photographers and video cameras. Planned buy the folks who are charged with using social “new media” to advance the OSU brand and make folks feel good about being on campus.

A second commenter disagrees about the motivation of the person who organized things:

I feel that you’re being disrespectful to her in suggesting that she had an agenda beyond that of bringing together a diverse group of people to share in her love of dance.

Unfortunately, the most charitable explanation I think is viable is that even if her intention was pure – and frankly, as an intern at OSU Marketing, I have trouble believing that – it just means that the organizer of the event was used by OSU’s Powered by Orange campaign to advance the university’s image.  After all, flash mobs don’t usually happen with such buy-in from on high – and nor do they result in everyone wearing a T-shirt made just for the event.

This actually reminds me a bit of coolhunting, which is not a good thing.  I know a few people involved in this PR stunt, and they don’t seem to realize that one more activity that could have been filed under ‘play’ has now been subsumed under the Society of the Spectacle.  The lack of critical thinking/awareness is really depressing.

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2 Comments on “Two cents on the latest PR stunt from OSU”

  1. Eric Stoller Says:

    I really enjoyed the flashmob (and really, who gives a rat if it doesn’t fit the perfect definition?).

    I liked watching my friends as they danced. Did I feel good about OSU because of what they did, absolutely. It was fun. Yes, it had a polished press release and a perfect camera setup, but the event was awesome.

  2. Theresa Says:

    Actually Neha came to University Marketing with the idea of the flashmob herself, after being hired to work as an intern for the summer (she’s an international student and needed on-campus work). She teaches Bollywood and I had suggested, as a student of hers, that organizing a Bollywood dance as a surprise campus event would be fun. When she brought the idea to University Marketing (which by the way is a super small staff that doesn’t have the capacity to organize such things on their own) they thought it was a great idea and let her have free rein. She wanted an event that celebrated campus diversity, as she is a volunteer at the Women’s Center and an activist. So she choreographed the dance, recruited the dancers, paying close attention to being inclusive of races, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds, and basically took on the project whole heartedly. I provided a press release (as well as being a participant) and we made sure that we had cameras there because the point was to get outside folks to learn more about OSU. Yes it took her entire summer internship (three months) to do the project, because that’s how long it took to train 75 people to do the dance. This was truly Neha’s project, and she was able to pull it off with the help of marketing (who provided the money for t-shirts) and advancement (for cameras, etc). Was the intention to get lots of YouTube hits? Sure. But I think the way you portray its creation is pretty skewed.

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