Kony 2012: The Marketing Lessons

Just three days after its release, more than 70m people had viewed or seen parts of the Kony 2012 video, so what does this new breed of activism mean for brands, asks Nicola Clark.

Can a viral video change the world? The charity Invisible Children clearly believes so.

At the time of writing, its half-hour video on Joseph Kony has notched up more than 76m views on YouTube and propelled the atrocities perpetuated by the Ugandan warlord onto the international news agenda, and to the pinnacle of Twitter's trending topics worldwide.

Of course, translating these views and tweets into a tangible change in the real world can't be achieved simply by sharing YouTube videos.

However, before retreating to the well-worn path of criticising 'slactivism' and consumers who attempt to ease their conscience through a tweet while doing nothing about the issue, it is worth recognising the phenomenal impact Kony 2012 has had in a matter of days.

Putting the inevitable backlash that has accompanied its huge ascent to one side, there is no denying that this is the fastest-spreading viral video in history.

Of course, gaining the impact of Kony 2012 is not within the reach of any given brand or cause, and the emotional pull and moral outrage the campaign has elicited is in many ways unique. However, the success of the campaign underlines the phenomenal power of social networks.

According to YouTube, 60 hours of clips are uploaded every minute. Attention is perhaps the scarcest commodity in the social-media world, so while viral marketing is the future, it is not an easy win for brands. At the heart of the Kony viral phenomenon is not a complex algorithm, but the simple art of storytelling and the enduring power of emotionally compelling content.

In the words of director and narrator Jason Russell: 'Humanity's greatest desire is to belong and connect, and now we see each other, we hear each other, we share what we love and it reminds us what we all have in common. This connection is changing the world'.

THE UPSHOT

What marketers need to know about the power of viral video marketing

Adapting to a hyper-networked world

Viral videos have irrevocably changed the face of marketing. In a hyper-networked environment where individual consumers have become media channels in their own right, brands can be built up and knocked down in a matter of minutes. Real-time marketing has become more than just a buzz phrase; it is changing the way smart brands do business.

Beware the backlash

While it would be almost impossible to predict the phenomenal rise of the Kony 2012 video, the scope and scale of the backlash is somewhat inevitable. Fearful brands may rely on disabling comments on YouTube, but recognising and expecting the dark side of social content is essential for success. Addressing comments openly and preparing for negative PR is essential.

Don't underestimate your audience

Digital experts have long argued that two minutes is the optimum viral-video viewing time for consumers. Similarly, online publishers have long viewed 'the fold' as the threshold few consumers will cross. The half-hour Kony 2012 video exposes the flaws in these assumptions.

Nicola Clark is head of features at Marketing you can follow her on Twitter @nickykc

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