Why has Kony 2012 been so successful?

The Kony 2012 campaign is everywhere….if you haven’t heard about it you soon will!
Since releasing their latest campaign film just days ago it’s had millions of views (the statistics on the Vimeo dashboard show the way that views of the film have grown and grown since its release on Monday), been trending worldwide all day on Twitter and was filling up my Facebook wall last night, although many of these are comments which are rightly questioning the approach of the organisation and the campaign.
In short, the campaign is about introducing the ‘world worst war criminal’ the leader of the Lord Resistance Army Joseph Kony, and calling for the US to provide troops to help arrest him in Uganda and bring him to trial at the International Criminal Court.
Both the message and organisation are proving controversial, as a development advocate I agree with many of the concerns about the approach the campaign has taken, not least as this blog describes it that ‘they take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more intelligent advocacy’ that will lead to long-term peace in Northern Uganda and the portrayal of the solution as being delivered by an outsider alone.
But regardless, as a campaigner I also have to admire the effectiveness with which they’ve got out the message out in such a short period of time, and reflect on how I might be able to use similar approach to get what I hope to be more intelligent advocacy solutions. Here are my thoughts on why I think they’ve done so well.
1. Built and nurtured a community – I’ve not really been aware of the work of Invisible Children until today, but it seems that over the last few years they’ve been slowly building a huge online community on Facebook, with a million+ people ‘liking’ the campaign over the years as the result of showing previous films on campuses across the US, presumably much of the traction that the campaign has got is because many of these supporters have been sharing it. Cheap but effective mobilisation in action.
2. Demand the engagement of the viewer – There is a line at the very start of the film that says ‘the next 27 minutes are an experiment, but in order for it to work you have to pay attention’. At 29 minutes the film is very long and you’d expect to get board quickly, but the presentation is very engaging, well produced, fast-moving and doesn’t feel like it’s dragging at. It’s got many (all) of the elements of what a good campaign film should include, a story, a call to action and it’s emotive.
3. Communicated its theory of change clearly – It’s evident how the campaign thinks that change is going to come about and this is explained to the viewer. For them its all about demonstrating public support for action to a small group of political leaders, which interestingly doesn’t include President Obama. You may or may not agree with this approach but it’s simple and clearly communicated throughout the film.
I like the idea of influencing 20 ‘culturemakers’ who they identify as being able to spread awareness of the issues. I’ve not really seen this done in such a systematic way before, and it’ll be interesting to see how these ‘culturemakers’ will respond to the call in the coming days, presumably some of them have already indicated their support for the campaign.
4. Made it clear what they need you to do – The call to action at the end of the film is to do more than send a message to the selected targets, but it’s also an invitation be involved in making Kony known. The campaign is building on the knowledge that it’s an election year in the US and focusing on a night of action in April where supporters. It’s a bigger and bolder action, asking you to buy a kit full of posters and resource and make Kony know. It’s also again shows the high value that the campaign on individuals as multipliers of the message.
5. Put creativity and social action at the heart of the organisation – It’s interesting that the organisation isn’t one that was started by humanitarian professionals, but instead by filmmakers who were moved to respond on their first trip to Uganda back in 2003. They describe their mission as ‘using film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity’. You can see this approach is evident throughout the film, and it’s different to what you might expect from a more traditional NGO.
Thoughts? Comments? What have you learn’t from the success of the Kony 2012 campaign?

7 thoughts on “Why has Kony 2012 been so successful?”

  1. Hi Tom,
    Well done for writing a blog about #kony2012 that actually adds something. The outpouring of “This is brilliant” and “This is awful” isn’t helping me to learn very much once I’ve read one article of either. The ECF thread has descended into low argument quite quickly.
    I’d be really interested to know where they go next from this. Given the number of Facebook likes they will have picked up from this, a huge (even huger) “mailing list” now exists from them to exploit. Should we expect #kony2012v2 coming soon?
    On a nerdy level, I shall need to pick apart the kony2012 website. That’s the best looking pledge form I’ve ever seen.

    1. Thanks Ross. We’ve got to learn from it even if we disagree with the policy asks.
      Agree that the ‘take action’ functionality is brilliant, but also is they way they’re moving people to off-line actions. I guess that’s where they see the campaigning going from now.
      Weldon from Change.org has got some really good reflections here as well – http://bit.ly/y166tw.

  2. I agree that they’ve certainly made an impact, but perhaps it remains to be seen whether Kony 2012 will be a ‘successful’ campaign? Most of the criticisms I’ve read so far are from people who think that raising awareness isn’t enough to make change happen, and it will be interesting to see whether the campaign does move from the online world…

    1. Thanks for your comment Jo.
      I was using ‘success’ in terms of the impact that they’d had getting so many people to talk about and respond to the film.
      Although as this post in the Independent says you could argue they’ve already had some advocacy success in getting President Obama to send a small number of troops to Uganda to provide ‘advice and assistance’ – http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/03/07/stop-kony-yes-but-dont-stop-asking-questions/
      I agree it’s going to be really interesting to see how they move things offline in April.

  3. My teenage daughter and her best friend were talking about this earlier today – her friend claiming success because she got her mother to watch right through to the end of the video, my daughter despairing that “my parents haven’t watched it yet!”. They were both planning to buy the advocacy kit and stage some sort of event It really struck me that this campaign has very effectively harnessed the desire of people to feel like they can actually do something, once they’ve been moved at an emotional and intellectual level. I fully agree with your analysis, Tom. Whatever the final judgement on the issue, there is much about the campaign that those of working on advocacy can learn from.

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