What Is a Rent-a-Crowd?

A rent-a-crowd is a group of people hired to make a business, rally, protest, or other public event appear busy, popular, and well-supported.

Rent-a-crowds are sometimes employed at the grand opening of a new business. Droves of interested-looking attendees can give the impression that the products or services the business provides are special and tempting real customers to come and see what all the fuss is about. Rent-a-crowds may also be used by political candidates to simulate broad public interest or support. 

Key Takeaways

  • A rent-a-crowd is a group of people hired to make a business, rally, protest, or other public event appear busy, popular, and well-supported.
  • Specialized marketing and promotion companies and casting agencies provide rent-a-crowd services for a fee, often charging businesses or politicians $15 per person per hour or roughly $50 per person per gig.
  • Rent-a-crowds can help get new customers into the door of a business, as well as simulate broad public interest or support for political candidates.
  • Recruits, many of which are professional actors, are usually asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to prevent the potentially damaging truth that they were paid to offer support from being revealed.

How a Rent-a-Crowd Works

The effectiveness of rent-a-crowds is based on 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 many other people are following a trend. This phenomenon is best summarized by P.T. Barnum, who once said that "nothing draws a crowd like a crowd." 

Specialized marketing and promotion companies and casting agencies provide crowds to businesses and other entities for a fee. While members of a rent-a-crowd may themselves support the company, product, brand, political candidate, or whatever else they are being paid to endorse, they are not unconditionally providing their support.

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.

Recruits that are paid to participate in a rent-a-crowd are tasked with showing enthusiasm and looking and sounding authentic. Many of them are professional actors and, in most cases, will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to protect the client’s anonymity and prevent the embarrassing revelation that their public support was paid for and was not authentic.

Examples of Rent-a-Crowd

Business

Rent-a-crowds can be a good strategy to help get new customers into the door of a business. Hiring a crowd can simulate the appearance of excitement, make a business look busy, and give potential clients the impression that business is good. In turn, this 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 buzz about a new product or service.

Politics

President Donald Trump's campaign announcement in 2015 famously used the services of a rent-a-crowd company. Trump's campaign hired actors to simulate public support for his candidacy, and individuals were reportedly 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. At New York City's Pride Parade in 2015, anti-gay marriage protesters were found to be hired members of a rent-a-crowd service.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Rent-a-Crowd

It's not hard to see why the business of rent-a-crowds is successful. People tend to influenced by their peers and are generally more likely to buy and express support for things that other seemingly respectable members of the community have already vouched for. When employed effectively, rent-a-crowds can potentially transform a business or political movement’s prospects overnight.

However, this phenomenon has understandably attracted a lot of criticism. Skeptics say rent-a-crowds deceive the public, and that anyone who uses them should be treated suspiciously. Proponents disagree, arguing that hiring crowds is no different than any other marketing strategy.

People don't generally like discovering that they've been deceived, so it makes sense that anyone who gets caught with a rent-a-crowd may find their authenticity questioned. While President Donald Trump and other political candidates have managed to keep their reputations largely intact despite having used this marketing tactic, none everyone can expect to have this luck. In the world of politics and business, trust is crucial. Getting exposed as a phony could potentially have extremely damaging consequences.