“Kony 2012” Viral Marketing Phenomenon–Top 8 Takeaways for B2Bs/B2Cs

The social media world was abuzz last week as the “Kony 2012” video became the fastest viral marketing phenomenon – tallying over 100 million views in a week!  After reading a review of this unusual March madness in the Weekend WSJ, “How ‘Kony’ Clip Caught Fire Online,” The Marketing Id determined there might be some lessons here for the B2B and B2C world:

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words; a video is worth a million views.  This is going to be The Marketing Id’s new mantra in the age of social media.  It has become pretty apparent since the dawn of social media that video is the key to virality.  The pen used to be mightier than the sword, but now the videocam is the mightiest instrument of them all.
  2. What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.  Before “for profit” companies start going crazy about the lack of virality in their marketing efforts, it’s worth noting that most major viral successes have occurred in the personal domain – with videos of baby acts, pet tricks, karaoke performances,  music videos, etc. – most of which cannot be actually monetized. A possible exception was when Susan Boyle sang her “I Dreamed a Dream” song in the Britain’s Got Talent 2009 contest, which WSJ says “ranks among the most-watched viral videos of all time, with 480 million views.”  Even if a small fraction of those 480 million viewers were spurred to buy Ms. Boyle’s attendant album – it would make that video a monster viral marketing success.
  3. “Kony 2012”producers finally realized that the medium is the message.  Any message that has “Invisible Children” as its subject matter should immediately take one through The Marketing Id’s complete “I” journey from Interrupt to Inquire.  Yet this powerful message lay sort of dormant on the Invisible Children web site for a few years until they decided to deploy social media using that key medium–video, and more importantly posted it on YouTube, which always transforms into Viral Central when the stars are aligned!
  4. Don’t blame the messenger–no kidding!  WSJ noted that “the presence of the toddler son of one of the filmmakers, to whom the narrator tries to explain Mr. Kony’s crimes…”  A child as messenger about a topic that covers “invisible children” – “Kony 2012” must have boosted Kleenex sales as well!
  5. Another marketing communications fundamental–know your audience!  WSJ writes that “To make their nearly 30-minute movie about such a serious topic appealing to young viewers, the filmmakers asked themselves: ‘How do we make this translate to a 14-year-old who just walked out of algebra class?’”  The “Kony 2012”video seemed to have nailed that answer as well, as WSJ reports that “the video first took off among a younger audience, with early data showing that the average viewer is 24 years old, according to Visible Measures.”
  6. The right message to the right person at the right time.  This marketing automation mantra seemed to have been in play simultaneously to a huge audience, albeit inadvertently, with respect to the “Kony 2012” video launch.  After Invisible Children held a premiere of the film in Hollywood last Monday, WSJ points out that they “posted the video on YouTube on Monday and also promoted it to its followers on Facebook and Twitter.”  It immediately took off among the extensive chattering classes of schools and colleges alike.
  7. Promotion is free on social media.  WSJ noted that “rapid dissemination was fueled in large part by links on the Invisible Children website that allowed viewers to send online messages seeking the support of ‘culture makers’—including Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Bill Gates—and ‘policy makers’ such as former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.”  Of course, the caveat is that such spontaneous promotion – pushing key influencers such as those mentioned here to participate in spreading the word via social media – requires a perfect storm of events to occur, which they did in the case of “Kony 2012.”  Again per WSJ, “two main factors contributed to the virality: young people were drawn to the story, and celebrities and other public figures promoted it through social-media sites such as Twitter.”
  8. If you have the inclination, we have the time.  A 30-minute video might work in the non-profit world, where stories such as “Kony 2012” require time to get their message across.  However, in the typical YouTube world, comScore reported back in February 2011 that “The duration of the average online content video was 5.1 minutes.”  So it would be interesting to find out what percentage of the 100 million viewers of “Kony 2012” watched the whole thing?

In summary, while “Kony 2012” is an interesting case study in viral marketing, The Marketing Id believes that it has largely succeeded as a brand recognition exercise.  Whether the virality translates into generating the response that Invisible Children sought is still to be determined and will largely depend on what percentage of those 100 million viewers actually saw the whole film.

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About Jack Nargundkar

High-tech marketing is always a constant compromise between logical left-brain analytics and creative right-brain activities. Jack has been living this struggle his entire working career, which he began as a software geek after graduating with a BSEE degree from Bombay University. To hone his marketing skills, Jack went on to pursue an MBA degree from Columbia Business School in New York City. Jack has since gained wide-ranging marketing experience from working at start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in the global IT, Defense & Space, and Telecommunications industries. In the past few years, Jack has focused on developing integrated marketing strategies and plans that incorporate a judicious mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques. In addition to being a self-published author, Jack has been recognized for outstanding analytical and communications skills, authoring technical articles (self and ghosted) in numerous trade publications and editorial opinions in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
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