Flash mobs don’t influence consumer spending

Sep 02, 2011

Philip Grant, philipstanleygrant@gmail.com, 604.779.3050
Derek Moscato, SFU Beedie, derek_moscato@sfu.ca, 778.782.5038
Dixon Tam, SFU PAMR, dixont@sfu.ca, 778.782.8742

Link to video: http://at.sfu.ca/ToZfer

An operatic flash mob video from Spain convinced Simon Fraser University’s Philip Grant to try the same in Vancouver to gauge whether the phenomenon puts consumers in the mood to spend money.

“I had questions about the reaction of the crowd, the depth of their emotional response, and what kind of impact the event had on their shopping experience,” says Grant, who was an SFU Beedie MBA student at the time. “It was at this point the idea for the research in my thesis was born.”

A field experiment involving six professional opera singers – including Grant, who has more than 300 operatic performances under his belt – in a surprise performance was organized at Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market last year. The academic study focused on how flash mobs influence consumer behaviour and experience.

They chose Granville Island because it’s a high-traffic, shopping area, and home to a number of arts organizations, which were very supportive and helpful in the event’s implementation and execution.

“We were very happy with the results from both execution and results perspectives,” says Grant. “We discovered a heightened consumer arousal during the flash mob, increased desirability to be part of the group, increased consumer connectedness, and increased consumer-felt emotion.”

While audience members laughed, danced and sang along with the operatic performers, the study concluded the performance did not encourage people to spend extra at the tills.

It’s no secret that music is an effective marketing tool – ever notice the muzak or radio station playing in the background while you shop? – but Grant suggests there is a difference between background and foreground music and it how it affects consumers.

“We learned that foreground (live) music removes the consumer from the shopping experience, making persuasion attempts more difficult,” says Grant. “However, we only measured willingness to pay, not sales volume or market share. As part of my PhD research, I have set out to answer these type of questions, as well as learn more about the practical implications for business owners.”

Grant, who is currently a PhD candidate at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden, co-authored the study with SFU Beedie PhD candidate Anjali Bal and SFU business professorsLeyland Pitt and Michael Parent.

Their research is slated for publication in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour and is also the focus of a short film that will be featured at the Association for Consumer Research’s annual film festival in Missouri this fall.

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