Love it or Hate it, KONY 2012 Exemplifies Viral Marketing

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You can map out and plot the every move of content marketing strategy — but sometimes, no matter what you’ve laid down, a campaign takes on a life of its own. Kony 2012 is such a campaign. Released on March 5 with an already record-breaking 75 million YouTube views, “Kony 2012” is a 30-minute viral documentary truly unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The video is a call to action for viewers to donate to Invisible Children, an organization set on taking down Uganda’s notorious war criminal Joseph Kony. Oprah, Angelina Jolie, Rihanna and George Clooney were among the celebrities to throw their support behind the campaign.

As the views continued to climb, however, so did the questions. Where was the anti-Kony money really going? What organizations were behind Invisible Children? And did the video ignore some crucial facts? What unfolded in the following days was another triumphant and cautionary tale of viral marketing spun out of control.

Facebook and Twitter buzzed for days about Kony 2012, with users from across the globe posting the video to social media. No other viral campaign for a non-profit had ever seen this kind of traction and soon traditional media had followed suit. From strictly a marketing standpoint, Invisible Children and Kony 2012 is a smash success. Their goal was to educate as many as they could about the situation in Uganda and they certainly did that. The issue was pushed on the front-burner and many say the hotness of the topic squished other buzz-worthy news stories — including the iPad3.

On one hand, it’s inspiring that a documentary and the non-profit behind it can bring such global awareness. This is the kind of response every non-profit dreams of. On the other hand, as a campaign and a product, Kony 2012 isn’t exactly free from controversy. A peek into the 1990 tax forms of Invisible Children showed big-time donations and financial support from anti-gay groups and conservative Christian organizations. Other critics say Kony 2012 is the antithesis of shallow, push-button social media activism.

Regardless, the power of viral marketing for non-profits can’t be denied, and Kony has forever changed the game with one 30-minute documentary.

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