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article imageOp-Ed: Kony Isn't Viral It's Old School Marketing

By Ovetta Sampson     Mar 14, 2012 in Internet
It has been called the most-viewed video in YouTube history and many people are crowning Kony 2012 the royalty of social media prowess. But they would be wrong.
Google Invisible Children and the term "sleep out.," and you'll get more than 2.8 million results. You may know Invisible Children for its "Kony 2012 video, which in less than two weeks has garnered more than 78 million online views.
The San Diego-based nonprofit certainly is well on its way to meeting its goal of making Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony a household name. Because of the viral nature of "Kony 2012," media, celebrities and pundits are all claiming that it is a social media triumph. Despite the high volume of criticism against the 29-minute video which features IC's co-founder Jason Russell explaining the violent atrocities of Kony to his toddler son, the video has garnered a tsunami of support. The visuals of Russell, a white, 30-something filmmaker with a high-pitched voice, showing his young son a picture of a black Ugandan man and saying simply that he's "bad," made many Africans cringe. And the symbolism wasn't lost on IC's critics who loudly proclaimed the viral video too simplistic, intentionally misleading and even propaganda for its advocacy of the U.S.military intervention in the long-running Ugandan tribal war.
Controversy aside, the Invisible Children's strategy of showing the film first to high-powered A-list celebrities such as George Clooney (who appeared in the video), the ubiquitous Bono and plenty more and asking them to spread the word was touted as "brilliant," and a new bar of success for development communication. But what many of the ignorant pundits who claim social media is the reason Kony 2012 worked are just plain wrong. Social media didn't propel Kony 2012 to be the most watched YouTube video in history, old fashioned canvas marketing did. Which brings us back to the phrase "sleep out."
I first heard about Invisible Children when I was Guatemala in 2007. I was there at a staff meeting with a large international NGO I used to work for and all their marketing departments. We were discussing the rebranding of our organization and I was in charge of writing the branding lingo. But I had tuned out all the conference talk at that beautiful Central American colonial hall in Antigua because I was fascinated by a video I had seen. In the video thousands, upon thousands of young people on college campuses all over the nation were sleeping in the middle of streets, courtyards and intersections as part of something called the Invisible Child "Sleep Out." A group of us had long since left the conference table and were huddled in the back of the room hunched over someone's laptops looking at a video "Invisible Children: Rough Cut." In it were two young, white, hopeful guys talking about their experiences with former child soldiers in Uganda and how they came home and had to mobilize with other young, American, filled with hope kids, to help do something to create awareness of what was going on in Uganda. (Take a look at it you'll see that IC has come a LONG WAY when it comes to making films!)
Nevermind that the Lord's Resistance Army had been featured in books, movies, on news programs and in academic papers all over the world. Russell and his co-founder Bob Bailey, and Laren Poole were shocked by what they saw on their hair-raising trips to Africa.
They came back with lots of footage and the filmmakers and the dreamer slapped together "Invisible Children: Rough Cut," and showed it to people in San Diego in 2004. Then they began screening on campuses. They mobilized hundreds of volunteers to travel in vans all over the nation's colleges and high schools to mobilize and raise awareness and, of course screen films. IC developed action-oriented stunts - really activist theater - for other young Americans to take part in. Thus the result were "Sleep Outs," where college and high school kids occupied public places in more than 100 U.S. cities and slept outside over night just like the Uganda child soldiers had been forced to do (minus the guns, bombs, violence and danger).
As a person in development marketing I thought it was brilliant. Anyone working at large international development organizations will tell you (though not publicly) that college kids aren't the best for your bottom line - they don't give much money and the money they do give they're inconsistent with it- but they do have lots of time and energy and that burning desire of youth to "do something," just to prove they can.
Not that these Sleep Out participants didn't really care about Uganda, but a youth generation with no Vietnam, no crack epidemic, no real challenges whatsoever, they were ready-made for an activist awareness movement.
According to an interview with Success Magazine, IC says more than 5 million people saw that film which was screened at more than "550 churches churches, 1,250 colleges and, 100 high schools."
College kids all over the nation began Invisible Children chapters, screening the film, organizing sleep outs, raising money and buying the IC bracelet they created for kids to purchase.
Do you get where I'm going here?
When it came time to release Kony 2012 some eight years later Invisible Children had a strong network of hardcore activist followers to pass the word about the campaign. They kept them involved with films over the years and Kony 2012 was their next step. Social media caught up with them, not the other way around.
With social media they didn't have to hire as many vans, recruit as many road volunteers but the strategy it seems was the same.
So if you want to replicate Kony 2012's success then I suggest you hold off on your YouTube feed and Facebook updates and build your base of living, breathing, marketing tools to help launch your campaign. Now that's a recipe for success that can stand the test of time and technology.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Social media, Joseph kony, Marketing, invisible children, Viral
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