May 19, 2020

What marketers can learn from Kony 2012

viral marketing
Invisible Children
Joseph Kony
Kony 2012
Bizclik Editor
5 min
What marketers can learn from Kony 2012


Kony 2012. Depending on your point of view, anything from the most skillfully executed viral campaign in history, mobilising people across the planet to demand governments do something about the world's most wanted man; to a dangerous example of modern-day internet-powered colonialism, perpetuating the helpless African myth to further self-serving ambitions and arrogantly disregarding the voice of the people supposedly being helped.

This has already been discussed very eloquently by people far more qualified than me to comment on the complexities and dynamics of the Kony 2012 campaign. Writing in the week after “Cover the Night” - the culmination of the campaign – it strikes me that there are a number of important lessons that marketers can learn from this online sensation. And, ironically, most of them are to do with not forgetting good marketing and communication practices, irrespective of the medium you are using.


1.       Audio-visual is the key to something going viral.

But, this applies primarily to developed markets with fast, affordable bandwidth. Ironically, only around 2 percent of Ugandans have internet access, so viewed the video en masse in makeshift cinemas, and certainly were unable to forward it.


2.       Viral doesn't come from nowhere

There seems to be a perception that the holy grail of a campaign going viral springs from nowhere. In fact, as Kony 2012 demonstrates, an awful lot of planning, budget and an already mobilised community goes into creating an “overnight success”. Reports put the production budget for the first Kony 2012 video – at the time of writing seen almost 88.5 million times on YouTube alone – at $1 million. In addition, this video was seeded into a US-wide community of church and college-goers, who had been primed to be receptive to the message.


3.       Viral goes nowhere without real-life organisation

By all accounts the “Cover the Night” event, which was intended to make Kony famous by plastering posters of him all over major cities, was at best a damp squib according to most news reports. While personally I only saw a single Kony banner in Cape Town, the Mother City event was singled out by Invisible Children as a success – possibly thanks to 18-year-old Michel Comitis picking up the baton and running with it – at his own expense.


4.       Do your homework

As any events organiser can tell you – check out the date you have chosen for any potential conflicts. In Invisible Children's case, “Cover the Night” fell on the anniversary of the Atiak massacre in northern Uganda by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA); the anniversary of Hitler's birthday; and the informal celebration of “Weed Day”. If this was intentional it was an insensitive, problematic and bizarre choice; if unintentional it was arrogant and sloppy.


5.       You only get 15 minutes of fame

Invisible Children's idea was to make Joseph Kony famous. They probably meant infamous or notorious – but the differences between these are becoming increasingly blurred in today's celebrity culture. Nonetheless, fame is a fickle mistress and quickly moves on to the big thing – the follow up Kony video has only received just under two million views on YouTube. In an unfortunate double whammy Jason Russell of Invisible Children, the director and “star” of Kony 2012, exacerbated the situation by becoming the next big thing with his peculiar and very public breakdown.


6.       If you start a conversation, you need to finish it

Even if it doesn't go the way you planned. Invisible Children started off handling questions and critiques well, especially when it came to funding, with a dedicated web page and some slick infographics. Unfortunately however some of the feedback became ranty and emotional, which is neither helpful nor attractive.


7.       Be humble

From Russell single-handedly saving the world on behalf of his little boy, to Invisible Children's lack of acknowledgement of other organisations' efforts to stop Kony and improve the lives of those affected, to an arrogant assumption that a military solution was the only option – the Kony campaign displayed very little humility. Marketers can learn that humbleness at the outset can stand you in good stead when things start to wobble.


8.       Don't only have one ace up your sleeve

So “Cover the Night” wasn't the success it set out to be. However a campaign is seldom a slam-dunk affair and usually the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. Unfortunately, apart from sketchy details about a pledge event at the United Nations in June and no details at all about something happening in November, there is not much left to hold people's attentions.


9.       The internet is global

The general response to the Kony 2012 campaign in Uganda seems to be unease, offence and anger. While Invisible Children might have set out to create a campaign aimed at mobilising people in the developed world it was inevitably going to reach the people of Uganda – despite the limited access to the internet in the country. The arrogance of Invisible Children speaking on the behalf of Ugandans aside, several commentators have pointed out that Kony 2012 was perceived by the people it was supposed to help in the same way a campaign encouraging New Yorkers to wear t-shirts emblazoned with Osama bin Laden's face would be.


Vanessa Clark is the co-founder of Mobiflock,, a mobile safety and security company offering a suite of services for businesses, individuals and parents. She’s a startup junkie, ran her own public relations agency, is ex-Clickatell and Band-X, and was a London-based telecoms journalist in the olden days before blogs, Facebook and Twitter. She doesn’t like marketing weasel words, but does like people making information flow more easily and safely around the world. She especially likes being in the mobile industry in Africa.

Share article

Jun 16, 2021

SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data

British Army
3 min
Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM, explains the important role that SAS is playing in the British Army’s digital transformation

SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation. 

“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.

In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”

Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.

Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”

SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”

With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.

“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”

Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.

“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”


Share article