If you’ve been paying attention over the past few days, I’ll bet you’ve heard about the YouTube video “Kony 2012.” If you have a teenager, I’d say the odds are 99% or higher that you know about it.
On another level, it is an incredibly well-crafted piece of propaganda. Note that the word “propaganda” can have both positive and negative connotations. The film is a masterful call to action targeted squarely at the hearts of idealistic young people.
On a third level, it is a portrayal of the film’s creator (Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children) as a selfless hero.
I’m not quite ready to bite, Jason. By the way, I found your use of your own son to turn the emotional screws on the viewer to be particularly off-putting, if effective.
There have been many criticisms, like the ones here and here, of the accuracy of the video and the integrity of the organization behind it. Personally, I am somewhat skeptical of anything that is tied up with a bow so perfectly.
However, there is no doubt that, regardless of the specifics here, the types of atrocities described in the film exist and are a major problem in war-torn areas of the world. Shedding light on these issues is a good thing.
What interests me most about this phenomenon is the way that a well-crafted and well-marketed film can manipulate – for good or ill – people’s emotions and lead them to action. In this case action means viral sharing, and presumably, financial contributions.
A tremendous amount of power will accrue to those, like Russell, who understand the new technological world order, and manipulate it to achieve their goals.
But with power comes responsibility – the responsibility to be accurate, for starters. It is our responsibility to be skeptical consumers of information, and to teach our children to have a healthy skepticism as well.
From the perspective of marketing and research, I take two lessons from this episode:
- great content wins
- respect the power of the crowd
Here’s the video. Have a look and judge for yourself.