Marketing Moments 2012: Kony redefines the power of the viral

The fastest-spreading viral video of all time gave marketers a taste of the power of social video

It was a watershed in social action: charity Invisible Children’s half hour video on Joseph Kony propelled the atrocities perpetuated by the Ugandan warlord onto the international news agenda in a matter of days, notching up 93.5m views on You Tube.

The subsequent backlash, and well-publicised breakdown of filmmaker Jason Russell, does nothing to diminish the significance of the achievement of the fastest-spreading viral video in history.

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 rare. 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 social video 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 social video marketing.

  • Adapting to a hyper-networked world 

Viral videos have irrevocably changed the face of marketing. In a hyper-networked environment where many 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.

Was Kony your marketing moment of 2012? Let us know what you think @MarketingUK @nickykc

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