When it comes to viral marketing, writes AlphaBird’s Alex Rowland, “success is hard to predict and even harder to replicate.” While hindsight is always 20/20, it’s difficult to know in advance which Man Getting Hit by Football video is going to reach the million viewers mark.

Case in point: Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign. In just five days, the cause marketing video reached 100 million viewers, making it “the most viral video of all time.” And that’s despite being 30 minutes long (an eternity in web time) and about an emotionally difficult subject. In other words, it’s not your typical viral hit.

Invisible Children's website provides a downloadable "action kit" with posters and flyers.

Founded in 2004, Invisible Children uses video campaigns to raise awareness about the infamous guerrilla faction LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony. Earlier this March the campaign exploded, thanks to the release of a 30-minute documentary describing Kony’s atrocities and providing a call to action.

Read Write Web’s Alicia Eler put it this way: “By the end of the video, Kony’s face is burned into our brains – we fear him, we hate him, we want to make him famous and then murder him.”

Cause marketing lessons

It’s hard to deny Kony’s impact on the digital (and real) world. As Eddie Reeves wrote in the Huffington Post, “The Kony 2012 campaign is, quite simply, one of the most significant marketing promotions in recent history, ranking alongside the likes of Philip Morris’ introduction of the Malboro Man and Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl spot.”

Invisible Children has 414,263 followers on Twitter, 3.1 million likes on Facebook, a Tumblr page and YouTube channel with nearly 86 million views of its documentary. #Kony2012 trended globally, with celebrities, politicians, and activists getting in on the discussion.




A Kony 2012 poster in Hong Kong. Image by Chun Lam, via Flickr

Content marketing blog iMedia Connection argued that the video’s weakness (at least according to critics) is also it’s greatest asset: simplicity.  The video was easy to watch (well – produced), easy to understand (plain language) and easy to respond to (with a click of a mouse you could donate, download posters, or write to a political official).

Social Media Today notes that one of the keys to the campaign’s success  (after the slick content) was that they targeted celebrities to act as brand advocates for the cause. The eruption on Twitter might not have happened had Justin Bieber not tweeted about it.

Invisible Children urges people to contact "Policy Makers" and "Culture Makers" via Twitter through a direct link on their homepage

Australia’s Marketing Magazine provides some lessons of its own, suggesting that the consistency of the campaign across channels made it easy for people to understand what the campaign was all about. They could jump from Tumblr to YouTube to Facebook and would see the same message.

The beauty of social media is that it lets brands keep the conversation going. In this case, when the conversation turned skeptical, the organization was able to respond immediately and across channels.

They provided links on their site directing users to more in-depth content, they pointed people to their budget, they aired YouTube videos addressing the concerns and they encouraged conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #AskICAnything.

And the campaign isn’t over yet. Expect to see a Kony 2012 Part 2 video released in the very near future, and much more conversation as the story unfolds.