Is the Kony 2012 campaign dangerous hype, or a game-changer?
Tonight I spent a few minutes on Close Up giving my thoughts on why this viral campaign has been so successful, and whether it will lead to any change.
First up, what is Kony 2012?
- Ask Wikipedia
- Check KnowYourMeme.com
- In a nutshell, it’s a 30-minute video that’s going around the web. As I write this, there are 15 million views on the YouTube video; that’s not counting the other versions of the video circulating around the web. This video was only launched two days ago.
It’s been a great success, and also attracted criticism. Interestingly, the critics’ complaints are the very reason the campaign has engaged people.
1. KONY 2012 is personal
In reality, this is a complex geopolitical issue with many shades of grey. But KONY 2012 pits one filmmaker/father, Jason Russell, against one war criminal, Joseph Kony. That’s something everyone can understand – and react to at an emotional level.
Takeaway: What is it about your message that is personal, emotional, and most importantly, true. (I don’t mean true to just mean factual, I mean emotionally honest)
2. KONY 2012 is relatable
Critics complained that Ugandans’ voices are not heard in KONY 2012, and instead relied mostly on the storytelling of an adorable blond American kid. That’s exactly what will engage American viewers (the primary audience) and help make the issue relevant to them.
Takeaway: Be relevant and relatable to your audience.
3. KONY 2012 is inspiring and challenging at the same time
Some of the footage shown in KONY 2012 is pretty gruesome and emotionally harrowing, but there’s also inspiring sights: crowds of American young people chanting “We will end the war”. It’s a one-two punch of challenge + encourage – this is the problem, here’s what you can do. It’s instant gratification – very uplifting and inspiring.
Takeaway: Use the one-two punch to wake your audience up to a need, and then tell them how they can make a difference. It’s all about them, not you. Kathy Sierra has some great stuff about this.
4. KONY 2012 is part of a larger plan
If you watch all the way to the end, you’ll see this is part of a larger plan. On April 20th, 2012, Invisible Children are planning to plaster the major cities of the world with KONY 2012 posters and banners. They’re taking the online buzz offline, and they’re being very organised about it. Viral is sometimes accidental; generating value from viral is never accidental.
5. KONY 2012 is unexpected and mysterious
It’s not immediately obvious what KONY 2012 is about – it sounds like an election campaign, and it’s presented with such strong conviction that it forces the question, “WHO?”
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid of a little mystery. Mystery mixed with confidence is a powerful attractant.
6. KONY 2012 generated controversy but the organisation has responded quickly
A few key criticisms of KONY 2012 came out early on in the campaign, and Invisible Children has been quick to answer most of them convincingly on their blog. They’ve also had staff members engaging in conversation on Twitter and on YouTube.
Takeaway: Creating and distributing content is just the beginning – the real value and opportunity lies in the response and engagement afterwards.
KONY 2012 is a compelling cause that requires, and facilitates, action.
KONY 2012 is a campaign designed to provoke action, whether it’s the simplest kind of action (like, share, retweet), a little more commitment (donating), or something more serious (organising a mass rally in your city). On Close Up I mentioned the 90-9-1 rule, which I suspect will apply here.
Takeaway: Ensure that the 90% (consumers), 9% (editors) and 1% (creators) all have simple calls to action.
The second question being asked is, is this going to do any good?
- Most of the criticisms seem to divide into:
- It’s too simplified. It’s precisely because KONY 2012 is oversimplified that more people will engage with it. See above.
- It’s dodgy. Invisible Children are advocating supporting the Uganda Government Military, which itself has a bloody record. IC have answered this pretty well on their blog – the Ugandan army is the nearest, best-organised body to carry out a capture programme.
- It’s a moneymaking scheme (and/or they spend too much money on filmmaking and travel). It’s hard to take this criticism seriously. Filmmaking and storytelling is part of IC’s core business, alongside direct involvement on the ground in Uganda. It’s not an additional expense. The storytelling is an integral part of their mission; if the story wasn’t so well-told, it wouldn’t have garnered this response.
- It’s short term. It’s just a flash-in-the-pan that won’t make any real change. See above; there’s actually a plan to take this beyond a single viral video.
Want to find out more about KONY 2012? Try these:
- Official campaign site
- Thoughtful analysis
- Snarky criticism
- Snarky and thoughtful criticism
- Thoughtful Enthusiasm from our good friend Amar Trivedi
- Very interesting and thoughtful criticism from someone who lives and breathes this kind of thing