Despite Controversy (and Partially Because of It), Kony 2012 Promo a Watershed Marketing Moment

Unless you live in a dark cave somewhere in the Kerguelen Islands, you have certainly heard of Kony 2012, the advocacy video that has taken the political, nonprofit and marketing worlds by storm. A production of the nonprofit advocacy organization Invisible Children, the 30-minute documentary lambasting Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony has become the most viral video in history, garnering more than 100 million views.

The Kony 2012 campaign is, quite simply, one of the most the most significant marketing promotions in recent history, ranking alongside the likes of Philip Morris' introduction of the Marlboro Man and Apple's "1984" Super Bowl spot.

The Kony 2012 video and its accompanying celebrity promos, college campus events and other campaign components have succeeded in creating awareness among hundreds of millions of people worldwide, generated tens of millions of dollars in donations and enlisted hundreds of thousands of new volunteers, all on the wings savvy technology use and compelling storytelling. And the controversy it has sparked hasn't hurt, either.

"It's hard to understand how big 100 million views is, not to mention the unprecedented speed with which Kony has surpassed the milestone ... (we) compared it to viral legends Susan Boyle and the Old Spice Guy" (which took more tan a year to hit one million views -- ER )
... In only six days, Kony is the fastest "campaign" to surpass 100 million views. Susan Boyle did it in nine. Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, which currently has over 900 million views, took 18 days. Rebecca Black's Friday, currently at 430+ million views, took 45 days. Even Justin Bieber's Baby, which has topped 1.1 billion views, took 56 days, one day faster than Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA. Modern Warfare 2, one of the biggest entertainment launches ever, hit 100 million views after 77 days ...

Not surprisingly, the video has generated a good deal of controversy. While some have groused that Russell et al "oversimplify" a complex set of issues, most of the criticisms lodged against Invisible Children have targeted the group's business practices. A widely read Tumblr blog called Visible Children was critical of the fact that 32% of Invisible Children's money went to direct services to victims.

Invisible Children responded that direct victim assistance, while an important part of their mission, was only one part. Equally crucial aims are to maximize public awareness of the atrocities which Kony has committed with impunity for fully two decades, and to mobilize citizens to push their governments to step up the pressure to capture and prosecute Kony.

In a detailed post on its blog, the nonprofit outlined how it spent its nearly $9 million 2011 budget: 80.46% on mission-centered programs; 16.24% on administration; and 3.22% on fundraising.

Obviously, I cannot attest to the accuracy of these numbers, bit I can say from direct experience working for, consulting with and volunteering for numerous nonprofit groups, that if the figures are even close, they compare quite favorably to the preponderance of major nonprofit advocacy groups.

But spending isn't the only controversy dogging Invisible Children. About a week after the video flashed its way around the world, group co-founder and video director Jason Russell of the video, was according to news reports, taken into police custody and hospitalized after witnesses reported he was naked, committing lewd acts and disrupting traffic in San Diego's Pacific Beach neighborhood.

As of this writing, details are sketchy, but both the Invisible Children staff and Mr. Russell's wife confirm that he is undergoing medical care.

Mr. Russell's personal and medical issues should in no way detract from his organization's simply Earth-moving cause marketing achievement. He and his compatriots have demonstrated as no one else heretofore the power of social the social web as part of a well-designed and well-executed integrated marketing effort.

Mr. Russell, you have my prayers for a speedy and full recovery, and my thanks for an extraordinary model of the power of savvy social media marketing.