KONY2012: A Wasted Opportunity

The latest Internet sensation hit the general public last week when a video about Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony produced by a not-for-profit outfit named Invisible Children caught the attention of the Internet in a big way – becoming the most viral video in history.

I’m sure sure your Facebook, Twitter or RSS feed was peppered with stories about the Stop Kony campaign, the celebrity endorsements and the power of social media to affect global change. Unfortunately, what Kony2012 expertly demonstrated was how buzz without proper infrastructure in place results in wasted opportunity.

Before I offer a critique, I will begin with a positive: the marketing campaign was clearly a success. If the goal of Invisible Children was to raise awareness around Joseph Kony and their organization, mission accomplished. In a very, very short timeframe, Invisible Children blasted into the public consciousness.

They also pulled off a textbook example of how to get people to watch and share video content. It had lofty emotional themes, pulling on Western society’s urge to do good across the globe. They tugged on all the right strings with their visual imagery: children, hope, innocence, justice, goodness – making a change. They also courted the high-minded Hollywood set to use Twitter to power the massive exposure the film got.

But if this sounds like a marketing campaign, it is. And it was treated like one. Rather than create and promote ways for motivated citizens to take action, Invisible Children instead promoted their online store. Their “action kit” is filled with swag where supporters (for only $30 dollars!) can become “an advocate of awesome”: t-shirts, posters, bracelets and stickers.

There was no evidence of a plan to provide real tools for motivated individuals to organize and advocate online for change. Maybe they were unprepared for the level of exposure their efforts received. Maybe they didn’t know how to build the right tools.

More likely, they didn’t think of harnessing the power of their global audience beyond driving them to like their Facebook Page or buy a bracelet from their store. This traditional approach to online marketing – build social media buzz for your brand to help further promote it – really only benefits those who run Invisible Children.

If Jason Russell and his team wanted to truly use the Internet to affect change, he would have created the proper systems to allow supporters to directly contact elected officials, organize themselves and empower them to keep up the campaign long after the video is forgotten (which has already begun to happen).

The lesson here is this: buzz is nothing without concrete action. If you fail to strike while the iron is hot – pulling people in, connecting with them, grabbing information about them, giving them the tools to power your campaign – you’ll run out of fuel pretty quickly.

And the metrics that matter – actual lasting change, rather than likes or views – will remain a minor footnote and a wasted opportunity.

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