What is a Rent-a-Crowd

A rent-a-crowd is group of people rented to make a business, rally, protest or other public event appear busy. Rent-a-crowds are sometimes employed on the grand opening of a new business to give the appearance that something is attracting people to the store, which then potentially attracts real customers who come to see why the crowd has gathered. Rent-a-crowds may also be used by political candidates to simulate broad public interest or support. Specialized marketing and promotion companies and casting agencies provide crowds to businesses and other entities for a fee. While paid members of a rent-a-crowd may themselves support the company, product, brand, political candidate or other thing, they are not unconditionally providing their support.

Breaking Down Rent-a-Crowd

Rent-a-crowds work under the principle of the rational herd or herd instinct. People will often abandon their own research, information or obvious market fundamentals if it appears that the many people are following a trend. This phenomenon is best summarized by P.T. Barnum who said that "nothing draws a crowd like a crowd." The practice of using a rent-a-crowd is related to the practice of "astroturfing," in which the message of a company or organization is masked to make it look as if it is the product of a grassroots movement. Depending on the job, venue, client and size, a rent-a-crowd generally costs from $15 per person per hour or roughly $50 per person per gig.

Rent-a-Crowd Use by Businesses

Rent-a-crowds can be a good strategy to help get new customers into the door of a business. In effect, it is the hiring of a crowd to simulate the appearance of excitement. This can also make a business look busy and give potential clients the impression that business is good, which may provoke the curiosity of passers-by or other observers.

One rent-a-crowd company in California creates a celebrity-like shopping experience for individuals in which a hired flash mob is used to simulate fake paparazzi and other observers. Rent-a-crowds have also been used at trade shows to simulate a buzz about a new product or service.

Rent-a-Crowd Use in Politics

President Donald Trump's campaign announcement in 2015 famously used the services of a rent-a-crowd company to hire actors to simulate public support for his Presidential candidacy. Individuals were paid $50 to cheer at the event. Such careful orchestration of political and protest events is not uncommon. Labor unions commonly pay temporary workers or even the homeless to walk picket lines, and at New York City's Pride Parade in 2015 anti-gay marriage protesters were found to be hired hands.