This is now becoming more than a trend — viral is, in large part, the future of marketing. We’ve seen the physics of viral, most recently with “Tebowmania” and then its maturation with “Lin-sanity.”
But individuals, companies and now social causes are harnessing the exceptional power of viral for significant marketing gain. They are doing so to push their message and grow awareness with speed and reach that simply cannot be matched through other channels. It is now well-understood that social media, including video sharing on YouTube and similar platforms, is not just simply on the upswing, but changing the way we experience our world. Enter “Kony 2012”and Invisible Children, the advocacy organization behind the 30-minute documentary film and accompanying campaign.
The organization has a mission focused on advocacy, inspiring the masses, specifically America’s youth, and government leaders to take action ending the atrocities brought on by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). For more than two decades, warlord Kony and his rebel group have terrorized countries in central Africa, committing atrocities against civilians in large numbers, causing great pain and suffering to the people of the region. Kony and the LRA are allegedly responsible for mass killings, rapes and child abductions throughout Uganda, the Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
With the violence and struggles of the region largely staying out of mainstream media, advocacy groups looking to expose the situation and create greater awareness have been forced to be creative in the way they market their mission. Nothing to date, including the original “Invisible Children” documentary released largely in a traditional format and seen mostly through “screenings,” has been as successful as the “Kony 2012” documentary film and its viral marketing campaign.
By midday Friday, just three days after its release, more than 70 million people had viewed or seen parts of the video, with the issue trending on Twitter and much of the mainstream media providing coverage. It is safe to say their mission of exposure and awareness has been accomplished and it is thanks to viral video marketing. Viral simply achieves remarkable reach very quickly, presenting a dynamic model of marketing, changing traditional timelines and targeting strategy.
This new model of marketing is powerful, and this case has successfully opened the door to step two for the movement: Turning great exposure and awareness into action and measured results for those impacted by the continued violence perpetrated by Kony in central Africa. In 2009, in response to mounting pressure from advocacy groups, President Obama signed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law.
Since then, to little fanfare, small advances have been made toward the law’s goals. Among them coming in late 2011, when the administration sent 100 military advisers to the region to assist local authorities in locating and bringing Kony and his LRA to justice. Even with this progress, awareness and momentum in terms of public support was not achieved in any way to the same degree that is being attained with the “Kony 2012” video. Thus, the viral video campaign has achieved something very real that essentially nothing else up to this point could — broad exposure and emotional connection that now carries many tens of thousands, if not more, of passionate supporters.
This last point is lost amid the praise and criticism that is being put forth regarding the campaign and Invisible Children. Strictly from a marketing standpoint, their current efforts as an advocacy organization trying to widen awareness of the issues have been tremendously successful. The result of their efforts is a growing contingent of informed individuals around the world whose support can be leveraged for further appropriate action that can achieve results. All this is thanks, in large part, to Invisible Children’s purposeful harnessing of viral marketing.
Kenneth C. Wisnefski is an online marketing expert and founder and CEO of WebiMax, an online marketing firm in Mount Laurel, N.J., specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing, pay per click management and social media marketing.