Lessons for Video Marketers from KONY 2012


KONY 2012 is now on top of the Viral Video Chart since it was uploaded on March 5. It is “a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” As of this post, there are already around 75 million views for this video.

The film was made in-house by Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children, Inc., a media-driven non-profit organization. According to Viral Video Chart, the number of times it was shared on Facebook as of Sunday morning totals to more than 7.6 million and it was also embedded in over 6,200 blogs. Google News also reported 4,950 news sources wrote about KONY 2012. Its phenomenal success leaves a very important lesson to video marketers. It also disproves some of the myths about viral videos.

In the past, it was thought that videos should be short and funny to go viral. KONY 2012 is the exact opposite of these qualities. It is 29 minutes and 59 seconds long (it’s not short). And it’s not also funny. It talks about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan guerilla group called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who was already indicted for war crimes on 2005 but evaded capture.

Short and funny videos are still the generally accepted videos that easily go viral. But these two qualities are not the only keys for successful video marketing as was proven by KONY 2012. Other formulas were identified through a research conducted by a university in Australia.

The study was headed by Dr. Karen Nelson-Field, Dr. Erica Riebe and Dr. Kellie Newstead at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, based in the University of South Australia. They were able to identify the emotions which may and can trigger sharing across the social Web.

Their findings were as follows:

  • While most videos are either amusing or boring, they are not the most shared. This is why some videos don’t get much number of shares.
  • Videos that evoke marked physiological responses (laughter, anger, crying, shock) are the most likely to be shared. So if the content can make the person laugh or cry and not just smile or frown, it stirs most people to share it.
  • In general, videos that evoke positive emotions (exhilaration, hilarity, astonishment, happiness, inspiration) are more likely to be shared than those that evoke negative emotions (anger, disgust, sadness, shock, frustration).

You might ask how these researchers came up with their data. They took 400 user-generated videos and they worked out the average number of Facebook daily shares each clip generated.

The researchers then asked 14 independent people to watch a sub-set of the sample and list down the emotions they personally felt while watching the video samples. They could choose from a list of 16 potential emotional responses which included astonishment, exhilaration, inspiration, hilarity, surprise, happiness, calmness, amusement, shock, anger, frustration, disgust, discomfort, sadness, boredom, and irritation. To lessen the impact of subjectivity, each of the videos were “coded” twice.

Each emotion was then allocated an average number of daily shares in Facebook. Hilarity got the most number of shares with 6,932, second was anger with 5,293, and last was boredom with only 622 shares.

For video marketers, there is a lot to learn from this research. However, the fact that the research concentrated purely on UGC or user-generated content means that it has excluded a number of other factors such as offline campaign expenditure, video seeding and prior product usage which are also important considerations.

Another study is being planned this year and this time, it will focused more on branded video content. The group is planning to use the same measuring tool.

Subjectivity of the emotional responses is also another problem of the data presented. Not all people will respond to a video the same way. This was proven by the statistics of KONY 2012 on that Sunday morning which has over a million likes and a small fraction of dislikes.