What Can We Learn From KONY 2012?

It has been one month since the KONY 2012 video was released, creating tremendous buzz all over the internet and breaking most YouTube records with over 60 million views in under a week. The video’s tremendous success and instant popularity naturally led to a major backlash, with many critics questioning the campaign’s motives and facts.

So one month after the campaign’s tremendous rise into viral stardom, and the strong backlash it received the days following, what exactly can we take away from the entire KONY 2012 phenomenon?

Despite your views on the success of KONY 2012 video and the backlash that followed, one thing remains very clear: the campaign was successful in spreading its message.

Within a week, nearly every internet-user had come across the video and its message in some form, from Facebook and Twitter posts to various news sites covering the topic. People loved the message behind KONY 2012 and not only wanted, but felt compelled to share it with their peers. It had truly become a viral sensation. It didn’t have that natural growth that most viral videos have, where one can trace its path from one friend’s Facebook wall to the next. Instead, it seemed as if the video was suddenly everywhere all at once.

Breaking the Mold

Probably the most interesting aspect of the KONY 2012 video was that it broke the mold in many ways, yet still achieved tremendous results. Most marketing experts live by the commandment of keeping your message short and simple, which means about 1-2 minutes in video form. Yet KONY managed to keep most audiences captivated for 30 minutes. Can you remember the last time you watched a 10+ minute video on YouTube that was trying to sell you on something?

So how did the KONY 2012 campaign achieve such success? How did they manage to not only get viewers to watch the video, but also feel compelled to share it with everyone they knew?

The truth is that there is no way to fully explain how and why KONY 2012 went viral so rapidly and became the huge hit that it was. Like most things that go viral, it was a case of the right content and at the right time. As a nonprofit, you shouldn’t be focusing your effort on trying to create the next KONY 2012. Instead, you should examine the KONY 2012 campaign and understand the different pieces that helped make it so successful:

1. A Clear Message

More than anything, KONY 2012 had a clear message: “Stop Kony.” This message was clear and simple, making it easy for anyone to understand and get behind. The message was supported by great storytelling, which explained the situation without muddling the message.

As a nonprofit trying to spread awareness to your cause, it is critical that you make your message simple and easy to digest. People want to understand your cause in a couple of minutes.

2. Simple and Effective Design

The design of the KONY 2012 campaign was sleek and professional. They branded the “Stop Kony” message with a distinct red and black motif. Within days the striking “STOP KONY” images and posters were prevalent on every social media platform and website. The strong message, along with the distinct red and black colors, caused many to want to investigate this cause further. This was essentially great branding, not very different from the Coca-Cola or Apple logos.

3. A Call to Action

Simply telling a great story is no longer enough, people want to participate in the cause. KONY 2012 allowed everyone to participate by calling for them to simply share the “Stop Kony” message, and to donate if they want to help further.

You should always have a way for your audience to participate and make it very clear how you want them to. The easier you make it for your audience, the more likely they will take action. KONY 2012 made it as easy as posting the message on your Facebook wall.

4. The Truth

Probably the KONY 2012 campaign’s biggest failure was its muddling of the facts. These oversights allowed the entire campaign to struggle under the intense scrutiny that faces anything popular. As a result, Invisible Children, the organization behind KONY 2012, has taken an image hit, with many people questioning the organization’s motives.

It is important to note that even though they are people trying to do good, the immense success of KONY 2012 greatly magnified any mistakes they made. People want to support good causes and want to help, but more importantly they want the truth. Nonprofits that provide transparency are often the ones that have the greatest success.


Invisible Children just released a follow-up video to the KONY 2012, called KONY 2012 Part II: Beyond Famous. Will this new video achieve the same success as the first one? It will be interesting to watch and see if the supporters of the first video continue supporting the cause and feel as compelled to share it with their peers.

What other lessons can we learn from the KONY 2012 phenomenon? How can we apply these lessons to smaller nonprofits marketing campaigns?


One thought on “What Can We Learn From KONY 2012?

  1. Pingback: The Power of Visual Content (Infographic) « Karma Store

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