Commentary | Kony 2012: A marketing phenomenon

How emotions trump nuance

The first time I read about it was when someone posted a short write-up on my college group on Facebook. The next was a few minutes later: my residence hall group had a link to the video.  After that, even if I wanted to, I would not be able to keep track of the times that followed. “KONY 2012” went viral.

Different captions were posted alongside every subsequent ‘share’ of the video. “This made me think, ” “Well worth your time,” “Incredible,” and, my personal favourite, “In thirty minutes you can watch a video and have it change the way you think forever.”

It did, unfortunately, change the way I think forever.

“KONY 2012” is a marketing sensation that has redefined the power of advertising. And we, the people obsessing about “social activism and stuff,”are its very intelligent targeted demographic.

What were the marketing strategies of “KONY 2012”? And how do they reflect on us?

1.    The embellishments:

Exceedingly overused in the media today, the image of the world makes several appearances in the video. It’s an image that reflects a subliminal feeling of greatness, importance, and magnitude. The most interesting part, however, is the narration that complements it: “right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were in the world two hundred years ago.” This magnetises the viewer as he realises the power that he could potentially have. What follows is a sequence of other videos that went viral – all with some inspirational or emotional ring to them. The idea of progress is now a subtle ubiquity throughout the video. Although this is a clever tactic to keep the viewer hooked and to ensure that the viewer takes is as affected by what follows, what is largely lacking is a more cerebral aspect to the video. The viewer is drawn on emotional and physical content, and thus, doesn’t consider the lack of information or contextualization in the video.

2. There’s a deadline:

 The fact that the deadline, be it arbitrary or definitive, is unfortunate. I understand the potential merits of the deadline from a marketing perspective – that people are aware of a ticking clock and will act quicker and more efficiently. But the fact that this has a deadline simply legitimises the fact that interest in the cause will fade with time. The creators of the movement understand human perception very well, as is evident in the video, and understand that the momentum this gained will eventually disappear. In using the deadline as a tactic to create a sense of urgency and desperation, the founders of this programme have not managed to directly specify what happens after the deadline. Do we let this evolve into a bigger, greater cause? And what happens if Kony’s capture isn’t within the given deadline?

3.    Kony: a single face:

The most incredible thing about the presentation of this issue is the traditional use of a protagonist, an antagonist, a hero, and a victim. The marketing strategy behind this is an oversimplification by dramatising the problem. Here’s the issue, there shouldn’t be a single face to an entire problem. Child abduction, the power of rebel factions, and militancy are all being grouped under one face: that of Joseph Kony. I fear that, if and when, Kony is caught, people will forget about the larger issues at hand. I understand that it’s much easier to market a cause when there is a recognisable face involved, when there is an identifiable and memorable “bad guy” but the potential repercussions of this could be devastating. This isn’t about a man; it’s about a cause. Remember that, and remember that it will not be solved if only one villainous individual among many is caught.

With every cleverly crafted, manipulative tactic before our eyes, we can see that “KONY 2012” successfully took us by storm based on one of the most disappointing problems with mankind today: its stupidity. Individually, we question, but, as a collective unit, we forget how to. We are superficial, thoughtless, and gullible by the masses, and we do, and will always jump on the bandwagon.

It’s time you choose a cause you support, live it, breathe it, and follow it to your grave, because, I promise you, you probably won’t live to see it solved, and cannot afford to abandon it.

 S. Azam Mahmood is a U1 Cognitive Neuroscience student. He can be reached at

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