How Invisible Children Made #KONY2012 The Internet’s Biggest Bad Guy in One Day

Photo: (Invisible Children film crew via blogAfrica)

If you’d asked one of your buds who Joseph Kony is on Monday morning, they most likely would have given you a #WTF shrug and started talking about Snooki’s baby belly. Ask that same question 24 hours later, and your formerly clueless friend would probably roll their eyes and get back to re-tweeting Diddy’s #KONY2012 shout-out instead of dealing with your “DUH” question.

KONY 2012 has blown up — and backlashed — like a cray cat meme with its campaign-launching film earning over 91 million views on YouTube and Vimeo — but this isn’t some silly gif or a 10-second video of a dog on a skateboard that’s easily consumed. It’s a heart-wrenching 30-minute video that details the heinous exploits of a wanted war criminal who’s responsible for abducting some 30,000 African children (according to IC’s estimates) and forcing them to serve in his rebel army as soldiers or sex slaves.

Not exactly what you expect to pop up in your inbox, FB page or Twitter feed. So how did Invisible Children, the nonprofit that’s been fighting to bring down Kony for 9 years, make an obscure African warlord the planet’s biggest cyber sensation? Most importantly, how did they get MILLIONS of people to give a crap in one day?

Well, kids, let’s unpack this impact formula:

The film. Beautiful and horrifying, upsetting and uplifting — the KONY 2012 film is a perfect example of how gorgeously produced, emotionally driven media can promote a cause, influence an audience and create a movement. While the budget (an estimated $1 million) and content of the video have been criticized, there’s no denying that what IC has created WORKS. It’s the foundation of this campaign and without it no one would be tweeting or talking about Kony today.

Photo: (invisiblechildren.com)

+ The bad guy. It’s a simple idea: Make Kony famous. IC wants to turn the formerly unknown madman into a household name so that public pressure and awareness will sustain support for his capture, set a precedent for international justice, and send a clear message to other war criminals. It’s a catchy and culturally resonant idea (although some think it’s dangerously oversimplified) — sort of like a cranked up web version of “America’s Most Wanted” — and it asks the world to crowdsource notoriety for Kony so that no one can forget the necessity of his arrest.

+ The urgency. In a world of ever-shrinking attention spans and multi-tasking, it’s all about making a plea for RIGHT NOW — otherwise, peeps just go right back to playing Angry Birds. IC spends the majority of the KONY 2012 film telling us why the Ugandan Army must stop this dastardly dude (an important point of contention for the campaign’s detractors) — but they don’t leave that declaration open-ended. According to IC, we have one year to bring Kony to justice or the lost momentum will most likely lead to the removal of the 100 U.S. military advisors sent by Obama in 2011 (a HUGE win for IC’s advocacy). Again, it’s important to note that there are experts and critics who do not agree with their position or approach. The time sensitivity of KONY 2012 kicks viewers in the pants to get involved with a quickness — but what to do?

Photo: (invisiblechildren.com)

+ The Action. IC slam dunked this part of change-making. They gave super clear marching orders to supporters and the results have been stunning. The org covered its bases with traditional steps like signing a pledge, getting an Action kit filled with KONY 2012 merch, and donating to their cause — but it’s their unique social media component that really made this thing go bonkers. Asking phans to Tweet and FB isn’t something new, but when you’re commanding them to hound the most influential, impactful people on the planet by the millions, now we’re talking.

+ The fame. KONY 2012 has a kick-ass Twitter component that allows you to instantly message 20 Culturemakers, like Lady Gaga and Jay-Z, who can spread the word with their insane followings and 10 Policymakers, including Bill Clinton and George Dubya Bush, who can affect America’s engagement in Uganda with their political pull. This part of KONY 2012, more than any other, has fueled its worldwide pro-social wildfire. It certainly worked on Ryan Seacrest, who tweeted:

With the list of celebs showing their support — Oprah, Justin Bieber, Kristen Bell, Zooey Deschanel, Rihanna, George Clooney and more — reading like the cast of Jimmy Kimmel’s “Movie: The Movie” and growing by the nanosecond, even IC can’t believe how big KONY 2012 has become.

Whether you support their tactics or not — and there certainly are solid questions to be raised — there is no denying that IC has changed the activist game with their KONY 2012 campaign. It’s historic and we’re living it – so what do you think? Are you down to make Kony famous or are you bugged by IC’s viral effort?

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