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Why Kony 2012: Part II Failed

Why Kony 2012: Part II Failed

Invisible Children released what they are calling the second part to Kony 2012. Made in response to criticisms leveled at the first video, Kony 2012 serves two purposes. First, it is to give more information to the audience of the first video in regards to the LRA and how end the group’s atrocities.

This time, IC discusses a bit about the history Kony and the LRA, includes further videos of survivors and communities and lays out a clear play for how to defeat him. This all ties it back to action, as seen in the first video, with the urging of IC to contact political leaders and participate in their ‘Cover the Night’ event in a few weeks.

I may be a bit hasty in saying this, but the video is a failure. Little of it has to do with the content. It succeeds in terms of providing more information and history about the LRA. IC deserve credit for taking this concern seriously and putting it into a video. I still find disagreement with the way that solutions are presented as coming from outsiders, but that is more of a fundamental disagreement with IC. This time around, they do a much better job of explicitly saying they want to support local solutions, but the overall message of the video and the tone of IC trends towards what can be done to save the people of Central Africa from the LRA.

Kony 2012 Part II is failure because of its low reach. The first video has 87 million views on YouTube compared to 1.3 million for the second. Including the views from Vimeo, part 1 views rise to 105 million while part 2 stays at 1.3 million. That means that the second part of Kony 2012 retained 1% of its audience.

There is time for more to view the video, but the numbers are not racing at anywhere near the rate of the first video. A series of videos for the “Cover the Night” rally have been released during the same time. The highest audience of the group is currently at 59,000. While none of these numbers can quantify the reach that IC has in terms of social media and its local chapters, it does go to show the importance of Kony 2012.

The problems of the first video are what inform the majority of people who are not active in the Stop Kony campaign. Some may have seen the responses by the likes of Teju Cole or watch the screening of the film in Uganda as reported by Al Jazeera, but the views seem to show that the appetite is low for more. The backlash and the unfortunate public breakdown of Jason Russell may have something to do with the lower numbers, but one cannot be for sure.

What I believe to be likely is that the first video was so well done and powerful to many that it did not encourage further want to learn more. By orienting itself towards action, people became focused on how to support the work of IC and bring Kony to justice.

All of this is to say that the first video mattered a lot. Though casually dismissed as “armchair critics” by Nick Kristof, the concerns expressed were done so because of an understanding that such a large audience was a big deal. IC did something remarkable in reaching over 100 million people with a video about a Ugandan rebel who is committing atrocities in Central Africa. The first impressions do in fact matter in the end, for better and for worse.

Part II addressed some of these concerns and was much better than the first in terms of the facts and focus. However, it pales in comparison to reach.  It was never going to reach the heights of the first video and that is why it is a failure. Some people still hold the story told in the first video to be true.

Bloggers pointed to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on the danger of a single story when discussing the first video. They were right on in doing so given the lack of audience in the second video. Advocacy uses the metaphor of a ladder where people are engaged in steps upward from rung to rung. Losing 99% of your audience is a massive gap if that is the theory of engagement. The failure of Kony 2012: Part II is due in part to the success of the first video which left little room for further learning or engagement. NGO communicators can learn that storytelling is a powerful tool to reach people, but it can shut down discussions and learning as easily as it can open engagement. IC’s step forward is welcome as it may slowly reach more people and possibly prove me wrong. Yet, we live in a post-Kony 2012 world so to speak. Hopefully the same mistakes can be avoided while learning the lessons of what made the video so wildly successful.The next benchmark will be the success of ‘Cover the Night’ on April 20. I have kept an eye out for Kony 2012 posters and listings wherever I travel. I spotted a poster when I was at the College of the Holy Cross a few weeks ago, but have yet to see anything else. If anyone sees any posters, art, etc please share it and ping me @viewfromthecave on twitter. I want to get a sense of the reach of the campaign. While the number of people viewing the videos is easy to measure, the action-oriented part becomes a bit tricky.

This is a cross-post with A View From The Cave.

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Tom Murphy is the founder and writer of the blog 'A View From the Cave' and the co-author of the morning "Healthy Dose" round up for PSI. He shares ways and challenges ideas about existing structures in international and domestic aid and development.

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5 thoughts on “Why Kony 2012: Part II Failed

  1. […] development. Translated into everyday language this means addressing the failure of something like Kony 2012 to make any real […]

  2. DDD from nashville

    ill tell you why it failed.
    1. The dude went crazy and was nude in public jerkin off.
    2. Cover the night was on 4/20(weed day) so people thought it was just code to get high.
    3. theu misled in their first vid and the attention span in america is about 2 days before we find somethinhg new to protest(treyvon martin atm) kony was a sham and I’m glad it flopped like a jlo movie

  3. Thanks for the comment, Kyle.

    I think I should clarify a few points. I might not have said it well, but my larger point is to argue that the first impression made on an audience is very important. The success and failure of Kony 2012 deserves to be evaluated on many levels. In certainly succeeded in raising awareness, reaching a new and larger audience, and in raising money for the organization. They failed in terms of perpetuating the narrative of helpless victims in need of help from benevolent outsiders. Additionally, they failed in making some rather simple points clear, such as the fact that Kony is no longer in Uganda.

    I think I am being fair in assessing the first video as having wildly mixed results. The stated intent of the second video by the IC team was to update its followers, talk about Take Back the Night and provide more information. I am sure they did not aspire to reach all 100 million, but reaching under 2% of that audience is low. Your point about sheer numbers is taken and an important one. IC videos do not generally hit into the millions of views. In that sense, we can say that they have increase their capture considerably.

    However, if we take the ladder of advocacy to be the construct of choice, an organization would seemingly want to have people continue on the upward path. IC’s success was in bringing the ladder to the ground floor. Criticisms aside, you are 100% right that this is what lead to such a large engagement. That combined with excellent social media targeting at its core audience and celebrities allowed for the video to spread quickly. The campaign was brilliant. Period.

    My concern is if lowering the ladder adds rungs to the bottom while maintaining the same height or if it shifts downwards entirely. To guess either outcome is really impossible at this time. What happens with IC going forward and its support will be something to track and an indicator to some extent. I worry that the way we are trying to reach people is not really changing. The same tactics since Live Aid are being employed and we have to scramble to support each crisis. The advocacy to raise money for the Sahel is presently floundering. UNICEF is shifting to use Selena Gomez to see if they can get things going on twitter and social media in general.

    As I said before, I used failure in hyperbole here. Reaching 100 million people is far from a failure. If we are to learn lessons from this in terms of communications and advocacy, I think it highlights how hard it is to maintain an audience. So yea, they got a million which is much better than keeping 99 out of 100. Though I would say that it also matters to what extent those 1.5 million are engaged and understand the issues verses the 99. People will hopefully communicate with family and friends, but the hope is to turn them on completely to the world around them. The question is what will acheive that end. I have my doubts about IC’s formula, but could very well be wrong.

  4. Hey Tom, appreciate the post, but disagree with the logic around “success” and “failure”. Sounds like you’re saying the first was a failure because of the narrative that connected with people wasn’t informational enough. The second was a failure because–even though it had a lot of information–it only (only?!) has 1.8 million views.

    “Advocacy uses the metaphor of a ladder where people are engaged in steps upward from rung to rung. Losing 99% of your audience is a massive gap if that is the theory of engagement.”

    According to this logic, the campaign would have been more successful if the first video was watched by 100 people and the second by 99? No bonus points for the 100 million views, media, and international debate and conversation?
    Advocacy teams use this logic to talk about bringing people on a journey of discovery and action. If the first rung is not accessible (ie very informational-based on an issue that people have little to no conceptual framework) then people can’t move forward. In this aspect, Kony was perfect–the original video connected people to engage the issue.

    The narrative inspired the views… the latter was more informational and responded to the critics. IC knows what many NGO’s don’t–emotion leads to action more than knowledge. Thesis’ don’t lead public movements.

    Part 2 didn’t fail. We can’t judge it success outside of the broader campaign goals. Advocacy? Success (especially if you’re not risk averse). Fundraising? Success. Education? Not really a core campaign goal, but I imagine that more people can now find Uganda on a map. April 20 turnout? IMO it really doesn’t matter–I imagine that was planned to bring the campaign messages to the wider public.

    1. As an addendum to my previous reply. I just saw this on the search and news reports on Kony: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/apr/20/kony-2012-what-happens-next#block-2. I think it actually proves both of our points. First, it shows that a massive drop-off in searchers took place rather quickly. Secondly, looking prior to the release, the searches do not even detect. So, while the traffic is way down, the aggregate is above what existed prior to the video.

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