Yesterday a video went viral. Within hours the phrase KONY 2012 was appearing on facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs, emails and various discussion fora. The video was a 30 minute documentary by Jason Russell, a film-maker and founder of Invisible Children Inc., about the brutal Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his campaign of abduction, rape and enslavement of 30,000 children in Africa. View it here on YouTube or here on Vimeo.
The KONY 2012 campaign seeks to force western powers (specifically the US) to arrest Kony and bring him to justice. Their means – by making him famous and by grassroots political activism.
This is a marketing campaign, and it is astonishing.
The campaign reached a critical mass yesterday but it did not begin yesterday. It has been growing for a decade. They have already had some success: President Obama ordered 100 US Army ‘advisors’ to be deployed in Uganda to work with the Ugandan military. There is momentum, but Russell and the staff of Invisible Children need to keep it going, keep it increasing.
There are plenty of blogs which analyse the rights, wrongs and compromises of this group and their campaign. This isn’t one of them. I’d prefer to focus on their marketing campaign and highlight two particular elements which show how sophisticated it is.
1. It is an in-club with a unique membership totem. Invisible Children has prepared a pack of t-shirts, posters, leaflets and stickers that supporters can buy and use to get the message out. Within this pack is a bracelet. Each bracelet is stamped with its own unique membership ID number and this number can be used to register as part of the in-club and also to upload photos and videos of the individual supporter’s activism. This connects the supporter to the organisation and connects the supporters to each other because they can all view the media of activism that each uploads. This is exactly what I was talking about in my blog post about the language of membership.
Please forgive me for the ‘I told you so’ moment. I can’t help but enjoy it.
2. There is a call-to-arms which appeals to the young. They can letter-write and send messages through facebook, twitter and other social media, but every campaign wants to do that. KONY 2012 asks its followers to prepare for 20th April 2012 when they will ‘cover the night‘. This means going out after dark and covering their their towns, cities and neighbourhoods with KONY 2012 materials: posters, stickers, lawn signs and more. It isn’t just ‘put up posters’; it is go out at night and cover the entire town – all at the same time, all over the world. That is exciting, and I’m tempted to join in.
There is one other element regarding the marketing campaign surrounding KONY 2012: the backlash. Within hours of the video going viral, people around the world were attacking the campaign and its followers by producing material designed to discourage and mock their efforts. Consider these:
These, and the many others like them, vary in sophistication and humour. In today’s cooler-than-cool world, where inane memes saturate the internet, any campaign is going to be parodied. Some are more cynical and ignorant than others but, love them or hate them, they actually continue raising awareness.
And I’m amazed that people were able to produce them so quickly. This is a remarkably stimulating and interactive campaign.