Invisible Children became Attention Economy millionaires in a matter of days. Here is how:
How does a young father from San Diego make a warlord famous? He starts by telling us about his own son. The story’s narrative does not open with photos or news reports of Joseph Kony‘s atrocities, nor with an introduction of the former child soldier named Jacob. The story begins in a delivery room of a hospital in the United States. Jason Russel takes the viewer along on HIS journey, not that of a Ugandan child or warlord.
Why did Russel make a film about himself? He did so because naive and impressionable youth are his audience. Kony 2012 is NOT a film for Africans. It is a film for American youth and the best way to capture their attention is by giving them a story to which they can relate. IC made editorial decisions that always put the audience above any concern for other viewers or policy complexity. Jason Mogus articulated this well in his post, Why your non-profit won’t make a Kony 2012:
IC knew who its audience was, simply, American youth. It speaks in their language, using their cultural heros and influencers. Everything in KONY 2012 from the visuals (Facebook, hip posters) to the tone (hopeful, not dour or depressing) to the emotional hooks (kids, the power of people to tip the world, social media) speaks directly to this audience. Maybe this is one reason why it annoyed so many “institutional experts” over 40!
IC’s goal was to, “Make Kony Famous,” and drive a young generation to human rights activism. What they needed was attention. IC was bound to upset many by being incredibly personal and driving messaging at one audience. This is the trade off in an age where information flows fast and free: use general messages that appeal on the surface to many, but deeply engage nobody; or, target your message to the point that it will alienate many audiences while enthralling your target.
We have moved to a media reality in which a small group of broadcasters no longer demand viewers’ attention, but viewers demand content made for them, when they want it. It seems counter-intuitive, but the way to ultimately reach millions is to focus all your attention on a few (See: Zuckerberg, Mark). IC has spent 9 years targeting young and hyper-connected idealists. Kony 2012 was the culmination of those efforts and it grabbed a passionate core audience who turned it into a viral sensation.To gain committed supporters in the New Media world, you must be prepared for some stone throwing.
Make a product within the medium where you want your supporters to take action. This is advice we give often. Want your activists to upload webcam videos? Then design a call to action on YouTube. Want them to make well-produced and artistic videos? Then target Vimeo and Blip.TV. Photo camapigning – Flickr; Trending Tweets – Twitter; Tell their friends – Facebook, and so on…
Oistein pointed out that IC in effect made a film about the power of social media. They drove their supporters to share the film by making the film within a Facebook timeline. The film even opens with clips of the Arab Spring and highlights social media’s power to drive change that the “Experts” said would never happen. The message is both subliminal and overt: We can change the world with social media.
One of the most interesting and confusing facts about Kony 2012 for me is that the call to action is, by definition, a call to inaction. IC does not want something new to happen, they want things to stay as they are — “Keep the military advisers in Central Africa.” There are two valuable lessons within this reality:
I’ve been involved in public awareness campaigns seeking to mobilize 100-500 million activists on issues of Poverty, Climate Change, Education, and the Food System. All have had far more resources and celebrity support than Kony 2012; none have had nearly the level of social media success. Discuss.