Why Kony 2012’s Viral Video Campaign “Cover The Night” Failed

A while back we wrote about the Kony 2012 viral video campaign and how it ticked all the right boxes to create one of the longest and most watched viral videos in recent years. However, while its viral benefits were never questionable, creating a viral video for such a long-lasting campaign certainly was.

In the wake of April 20th 2012 we look at why brands, businesses and campaigns should be wary of the beast that is viral video and why Cover The Night failed.

Did Cover The Night Fail?

The way viral video works is that an online video starts small, grows in popularity until it saturates its audience and then once it has done so it then drops off the face of the World Wide Web.

If we take a look at the Kony 2012 video’s placement on Vimeo we can see a real insight into the videos viral journey. On the day of its original upload on February 20th the video received just 3 measly views, then on Wednesday March 7th the video hit its online saturation point when it generated over 8 million views in just one day. At that point it was all downhill from there, never hitting anywhere near such a high level of viewership again.

In fact on the day after Cover The Night when the world should have woken up to Kony’s face every where (making it potentially the most popular day in the video’s online life) the video only received 7,867 views, a viewership that is over 1,000 times smaller than its highest peak on March 7th.

Even in terms of viewership Cover The Night’s aim was a giant failure. So, what went wrong?

Kony Was Already Famous On March 7th

The principle of Cover The Night was to plaster Kony’s face everywhere and make him famous to the entire world. Now the fact that many of us around the globe woke up to not even a mere mention of the man was because Invisible Children’s campaign peaked too soon.

The Kony 2012 video hit its viewership peak on March 7th and with the video getting millions of views a day on both Vimeo and YouTube, the online world was quickly learning who Kony was long before the date of Cover The Night on April 20th.

This meant that Cover The Night had its wind taken out of it sails far too early on by the success of the Kony 2012 video. Online users, politicians, activists and general campaign supporters around the world were all learning who Kony was in March, which meant by the end of April Kony already was “famous”.

This meant that in actuality Invisible Children’s success with the Kony 2012 video saturated their viewership and made Kony “famous” far too early on for Cover The Night to have much relevance or urgency.

April 20th Was Far Too Late

The majority of brands and businesses make viral videos for products and services that viewers can act upon and purchase right away. The majority of organisations know that viral video is a “flash in the pan” style of video marketing, which means the calls to action they give viewers are quick, simple and can be acted upon as soon as a viewer lands of their video’s page.

While Invisible Children did allow for donations and promotional materials to be bought right away, the fact that the wait for April 20th was so long meant the urgency and furthermore the passion behind the campaign died out within weeks.

We all saw Kony 2012 and Cover The Night Facebook Events and Facebook Pages crop up daily in March with viewers of the Kony 2012 video feeling driven to make a change. However, considering the video was targeted at young people who have a very short attention span, the fact they had to wait for this event was completely counter-productive. Not only were younger people forgetting about Kony as March and April rolled on, but due to the video’s popularity they grew sceptical, fickle and disinterested with the entire campaign.

This is after all the incredible difficulty in tailoring a viral video towards the younger generation.

Popularity Brings Criticism

With Kony 2012 generating millions of views daily its target audience weren’t the only ones getting sceptical about the campaign and its organisers.

Media industries, politicians and every person who read the story in the local news had an opinion on the matter, and because the video was growing every week more and more sceptics and intellectuals were joining the fray to have their say.

While Invisible Children did their best to battle the tide of criticism coming their way with numerous videos, the fact that there were any negatives, no matter how small, surrounding the company began to turn its target audience off immediately.

The younger generations can be transfixed and captivated by an idea, but their inner critique meant that if just one teeny tiny criticism or negative opinion about Kony 2012 was actually true, then they were out. This was the chain of disinterested youth and unconvinced intellectuals that followed March 7th, which meant by April 20th Cover The Night and Kony 2012 were not even a dot on their radars.

That “Inappropriate” Moment

With the worldwide masses growing more sceptical, critical and actively ignorant to Kony 2012 and Cover The Night, the campaign was already looking pretty doubtful, but another rather visible nail in the Invisible Children coffin reared its head on March 17th.

Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children and the figure-head of Kony 2012, was “allegedly found masturbating in public, vandalizing cars and possibly under the influence of something, according to the SDPD” (Source: NBC San Diego).

If the critiques of the organisation as a whole weren’t enough, this story erupted all over the news and social sites destroying any credibility that was left in the movement. We all know how social sites can churn the rumour mill, especially amongst the ranks of younger users, but with such a factual story appearing online the social fallout that followed was staggering.

In the wake of this scandal, by March 17th not only had the video and organisation reached widespread viewership saturation and gone under the critical thumb of intellectuals worldwide, but now even the poster-boy of Invisible Children had let what followers of Kony 2012 that were left, well and truly down.

Cover The Night Was A Victim of the Power of Kony 2012

Every downfall of the Cover The Night event can be attributed to the success of the Kony 2012 video:

1) The alleged malnutrition and exhaustion Jason Russell was supposedly suffering from due to the whirlwind Kony 2012 had created led to his action March 17th.

2) Kony 2012’s popularity generated masses of criticism and given that the majority of comments and interaction on popular content is negative, it was no surprise that its viewership generated such widespread negativity.

3) Cover The Night’s date of April 20th was just far too late for any action to take place. As we know the criticism and bad publicity the organisation faced by the end of March had already destroyed Invisible Children’s reputation and considering its viewership had saturated by March 7th the best time for the event would have actually been Saturday March 10th. As this would have allowed Invisible Children to ride the viral wave and create action before the wave of negativity could sweep them under the rug.

4) Due to the video’s high viewership the aim of making Kony famous had already succeeded. Regardless of our feelings towards Invisible Children and Jason Russell, the organisation had successfully managed to educate the world in who Kony was and the evil he was doing. However, they unfortunately managed to do this more than a month earlier than they had planned, getting tripped up by the success of a video that had only hoped to plant the seeds of the Cover The Night campaign. One could imagine that filming the events of Cover The Night would have made for a more popular Invisible Children video, but that moment never came as a result of so many factors as you have seen.

Let Kony 2012 and Invisible Children be a viral video marketing lesson to everyone everywhere; you can tick all the right viral boxes, but unless you plan how to capitalise and cope with the viral wave that follows you will most certainly drown in it.

About Andy.Havard

Andy Havard is a Marketing Executive at Skeleton Productions, a UK based video production company. http://www.skeletonproductions.com/
Posted in - Personalised Viral Video, Video Marketing Tips
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