Fake It ‘Til You Change It - Propaganda Week


By Chelsea Pineda

Paid protesters for “Purge Day” assembled in Los Angeles two weeks ago on the employ of Crowds on Demand. Photos courtesy of Crowds on Demand.

The “fake it til you make it” mentality is a common way people boost their confidence to fit into a particular group or to become their ideal type of person But can this sort of mindset also be an effective marketing strategy? Companies and charities that are hiring actors to put on fake protests to garner attention for their respective causes, seem to think so.

Adam Swart is the CEO and founder of the company Crowds on Demand, which Swart describes as a PR business that gets people’s messages out in an innovative way.

Essentially, Crowds on Demand pays actors to act as fake activists at staged protest events in support of certain causes or messages that the client companies or organizations want put out there. Swart’s company also supplies services to ordinary people who want celebrity experiences by providing them with fake fans, paparazzi, entourages, and special VIP treatment.

Crowds on Demand has also done work with both charities and startup companies alike. The aim is to increase marketing and visibility by executing a number of PR stunts, which have garnered significant media coverage in the past, according to Swart.

While no two events are the same, the prices constantly vary and tend to run upwards of $1,000 or more for a crowd of ten to even a 100 or more actors, Swart explains.

“Those folks hire us to get known because we help get the word out about their product in an innovative way,” Swart says. “For example, if you’re at a convention, one of our stunts really points you out of the crowd.”

Virurl is a Crowds on Demand client that has gone public with their fake protest involvement, Swart explains. As a result of the service, Virurl reported an estimated 500 percent increase in its company revenues.

The Crowds on Demand founder also discusses a undisclosed charity that, before becoming a client, was barely spoken about, but afterwards, the charity gained news coverage on national media.

Though, Crowds on Demand is not the only example of fake protests instilled in the media. A video (which has since been removed) captured by Elbadil TV on YouTube presents a large group of fake protestors yelling and chanting in support for keeping the recently unseated President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi in office. The photos and screenshots of the video show what seems to be a violent protest in the Middle East.

However, all of the “protestors” in the video then simultaneously freeze in different poses so that photographers can take convincing pictures of these participants. The shots taken range from images of men and women in the middle of the crowd donning signs that express their support for President Morsi, to a woman with fake blood on her hands holding a seemingly injured protestor.

According to PetaPixel, this staged violent protest is an example of “Pallywood,” as Professor Richard Landes of Boston University called it. “Pallywood” is a term referring to the concept of alleged media manipulation done by Palestinians and Arabs.

While the YouTube video has brought about discussion in regards to fake media in independent and mainstream news outlets, it has also brought much attention to the topic that the staged protest meant to bring into a stronger light, which is the overthrowing of Mohamed Morsi.

“I would say, typically, when people are looking at innovative ways to market, people are looking almost exclusively to the Internet,” Swart says. “We are sort of taking things back a little bit… This is another effective way to market.”

Swart also proposes that Crowds on Demand’s mission serves as a way to help solve a national problem.

“I think the problem with American society is that it’s too apathetic,” Swart says. He says these events and stunts that Crowds on Demand plan out push people to become more involved, engaged in, or to at least thinking, about the core issues that the client companies are presenting.

Whether fake protests and events are seen as a sneaky tactic for an organization or charity to buy their way into the social and public consciousness, or as a smart and innovative marketing strategy, it is hard to deny that the issues and messages imparted are given more attention, no matter the literal cost of it.

“Regardless, I think we’re actually helping advance the conversation because we are getting people to think about the issues, whether they agree or not with the side that we are supporting,” Swart says. “[Crowds on Demand services] help people to really start engaging themselves with the issue, which in my opinion, advances the political discourse in this country when we talk about these sorts of things. So I think it’s actually a great way to get the conversation going.”