4 Content Marketing Lessons from the Kony 2012 Campaign

The following was written by Seth Ressler of Marketo
and published to their blog on March 14, 2012.

On March 5th, the non-profit organization Invisible Children posted a video online called “Kony 2012.” The 30-minute, slickly produced video narrated by Jason Russell explains the atrocities of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, who many consider to be the most brutal criminal in the entire world. The stated goal of the film is to raise awareness of Kony in order to put pressure on American politicians to bring Kony to justice.

Within five days, it had more than 70 million views on YouTube and 16 million on Vimeo. The number of Google searches, Facebook posts and tweets about Kony has gone through the roof. Mainstream media outlets have spent the last week debating the merits of the video and the aims of Invisible Children as a whole.

In terms of a vehicle designed to get the word out, it’s hard to imagine this film could have been any more successful. So what content marketing tips can we learn from the Kony 2012 campaign?

1. Story telling matters.
Seth Godin’s book, All Marketers are Liars, is about the importance of storytelling. While some believe that Mr. Russell’s video has been vague and misleading at points (a few have used the word “liar’), it’s clearly great storytelling. Russell uses his young son and a young Ugandan boy named Jacob as a narrative device to great effect. The film sets up a parallel between the two boys, illustrating why Americans should be concerned about children halfway around the globe and invoking an emotional response. The inescapable message is, “this could be happening to our children.” So while you don’t need to lie to get your point across, framing a well-crafted story sure helps.

2. Production values matter.
Invisible Children spends a large portion of the donations made to the organization for film making. It has received some criticism for this, but it’s not hard to see that the excellent quality of the film is a big part of what caused it to go viral. From the screen that fades to black as Jacob breaks down in tears when talking about his younger brother, to the carefully flashed images of mutilated children, it’s not hard to see that this is the thoughtful work of an experienced filmmaker. The use of music, on-screen text and narration all add to the heightened emotional response the film provokes. At Marketo, we constantly stress the importance of content in marketing. As you can see, a high quality piece of content can go a long way.

3. Debate spreads the word.
Although there is widespread agreement that Joseph Kony is a terrible man who should be stopped, there has been much debate about how Invisible Children is going about it. That has only helped further awareness of Joseph Kony. While not all controversy is good (see: Rush Limbaugh’s tough week), debate can cause discussion about an issue to spread. So don’t worry about the fact that your company can’t please all the people all of the time — that just might help you.

4. A strong call to action is key.
The Kony film ends with very clear directions: Sign the petition, order the bracelet and share the video. On their website, they also made it very easy to contact important political figures and celebrities about Kony through social media channels. With a push of a button, visitors can tweet or email people like Jay-Z, Nancy Pelosi or Bill O’Reilly. The film also clearly spells out how taking these action will help the victims of Joseph Kony. The combination of a clear and easy call to action with explicitly defined benefits has made the campaign very successful.

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