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A Flash of brilliance for Boomtown and NMMU

Boomtown took university marketing to the next level by creating a clever flash mob for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University which has subsequently gone viral on YouTube and received an overwhelming positive, patriotic response. The activation helped the NMMU and Boomtown stand out from the crowd and prove that strong creative ideas can be successfully executed, even with a limited budget.


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan is a comprehensive university situated in Nelson Mandela Bay, and has been a client of Boomtown’s for a number of years. The university currently holds over 25 000 students across its six campuses, and is a market leader in tertiary education in the Eastern Cape province.


The marketing of a university presents many challenges: strong national competitors, the fickleness of youth, and all within a recessionary period. On top of this, how do you stand out against market leaders when your marketing budgets are a fraction of theirs? The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) faces these issues. Boomtown needed to create a campaign on a tight budget that had the potential to go way beyond the effectiveness of traditional media.


Boomtown realised that to maximise the budget, a successful viral campaign was the best solution. But how does one make a viral campaign go viral? The answer of which had the potential to create great success for the planned campaign and deliver return on investment. By aiming at the popularity of social media channel Youtube and the effectiveness of word of mouth, a campaign was conceptualised with the idea of culminating in an experiential event which would be seeded to a pre-existing database.

The campaign theme was A Better U (the result of a life transformed through education), graphically made up of elements which linked in with youth trends. The message behind the campaign was that a tertiary education at NMMU would result in a better you, hence the need to submit an application.

The initial Open Day campaign acted as a teaser, with over 4000 entries being received for an iPad competition. This allowed Boomtown to build a database with names and email addresses. This database would be set aside as the seeding database for the upcoming Undergraduate campaign.

Two months later Boomtown devised an activation to give the campaign momentum and take it to the next level. By teaming up with the exceptionally talented NMMU Choir, choreography was planned and songs were selected that had “You” in the lyrics. A flash mob concept was refined for the popular, multicultural Port Elizabeth shopping centre Greenacres. The flash mob experiential event took place on a busy Saturday morning, and was filmed using handheld video cameras.

The video was edited to include the performance, crowd reactions and the final campaign message: ‘U can stand out from the crowd. For a better U, apply now.’ The video was uploaded onto YouTube and seeded on Facebook. Boomtown then utilised the database collected two months prior and sent the link to each individual on the database. Instead of the cost expense of Facebook ads, an insight found that personal recommendations from peers received substantially better click through rates. Therefore a select group of ‘mavens’ linked to the target market was personally requested to post the link on their Facebook wall as a status update. The experiential event was backed up by traditional media in local press and radio.


The results of the flash mob were remarkable. Over 85 000 hits were received within a month and the NMMU gained exposure worldwide, drawing comments from every part of the world. The campaign resulted in great brand building through the tapping in of modern and local insights, while driving a message using two of its values Ubuntu and Diversity, which came out strongly in the flash mob.

The Youtube video was one of the fastest growing South African videos of the year. The comments and responses on social media were overwhelming, and the video received hundreds of tweets, re-tweets, Facebook mentions and Youtube comments, with over 600 ‘likes’. According to an independent study, the NMMU flash mob video received over R400 000 Online Ad Value from exposure online – nearly 10 times the cost of production of the video. In addition, the video was showcased on radio stations various radio stations, and received exposure in local newspapers and on the television channel E News, earning an Advertising Value Equivalent of well over R300 000.

The campaign was able to capture the imagination of the public locally and internationally, and was an exceptional brand building tool. The exercise allowed NMMU to truly ‘Stand out from the crowd’ and positioned them as an innovative institution with a strong progressive attitude, all within a limited budget.