OPINION: Kony 2012, a lesson in marketing

By Paul Nagy | 16 March 2012
Clemenger BBDO Sydney executive creative director, Paul Nagy.

I think one of the most sobering lessons to learn from Kony 2012 is that we still know so little about what really drives the viral, social nature of modern marketing.

The authors of this work admit they are shocked by its success. Kony is their eleventh video in eight years and none of their previous attempts had anything remotely like this kind of success, so we’re not talking about marketing genius here, but something more akin to winning global marketing bingo. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. Whether accidentally or not, Kony 2012 brings together many of the marketing principles this industry has been built on long before there were clicks.

But before we focus on what works, what about what doesn’t? There are a lot of things to really dislike about this video; not least of which is that it is created by a monumental ego who loves being on stage and is quite blatantly fitting himself out for some kind of cape. It bluntly runs you down emotionally like an all-American Humvee with Hallmark number plates. It has high production values that make you question where the money’s coming from, and, as has clearly been documented, it is filled with inaccuracy and spin.

These are just some of things a professional marketer might call weaknesses. The kind of stuff we might fight to remove, which I think is interesting in itself. This film worked in spite of all that, which in my opinion just highlights the power and importance of the one thing it does so brilliantly. And while I could yik yak on about all the other marketing boxes it ticks along the way (including a hurry now! used-by date), I’ll take a leaf out of their book and just outline the one thing I think it does best.

Kony 2012 is a masterpiece of simplification.

They boiled a massive, heart-wrenching, overwhelming problem down into a single man. In the lighter world of retail, it’s reminiscent of the chunking down that AMV BBDO did with Sainsbury’s by breaking a massive financial challenge down into bite-sized pieces and getting every customer to buy just one more item every time they shopped. Simple.

They then only asked for something simple. Share. Sure, the hand of charity made an appearance in the film, but its blistering success came from the fact you could feel like a better person and hunt a monster all at the click of a button. Simple.

Finally, and I think most brilliantly, even the target himself was simple. If the campaign had been Mugabe 2012, would it have been as successful? I don’t think so. We know Mugabe. If they were going to get him, they’d have gotten him by now, right? He’s complicated.

But I haven’t heard of this guy Kony before. So not only do I get that wonderful social rush from spreading new news, but he feels eminently beatable. If we all got together I bet we could do it. And all I have to do is share. Simple.

Paul Nagy
Executive Creative Director
Clemenger BBDO Sydney

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