The reason why we suddenly care about kids

Does the name Joseph Kony ring a bell? Bet it does. Did you know who he was before the week of March 5? I didn't, and I suspect I'm not alone.

Does the name Joseph Kony ring a bell?

Bet it does. Did you know who he was before the week of March 5? I didn't, and I suspect I'm not alone.

The week of March 5 is when a YouTube movie targeting the African rebel warlord – accused of mass kidnapping, killing, and sex crimes of children over a quarter century – became the most viral video ever, soaring from zero to 50 million views in the first three days.

Although the movie has detractors, as a communications device it's a tour de force of relevance, the concept I blogged about here two days ago. “Kony 2012” reveals the power of craftsmanship combined with the relevance recipe I laid out: appeal to thinking, values, senses, and social impulses. Logic, as I asserted, is overrated.

I mean, we've all known about atrocity in Africa. But until now, how many of us were moved to act? Even don a ribbon? Relevance triggers action.

One kind of action is sharing a video, and Kony 2012 has surpassed 75 million views on YouTube alone as of this writing. I'm seeing Kony 2012 handbills tacked to telephone poles, and there's a fair chance we'll see something big around April 20. That's the day, the film explains, “when we will meet at sundown and blanket every street in every city [with Kony wanted posters] till the sun comes up.”

Now I know this video has raised questions about the producers' spending, methods, philosophies, and motives. I'm not weighing in on that. My point is they managed to make the fate of children in Africa excruciatingly relevant to Americans with their own share of problems. And they did it by pulling all four relevance triggers:

Thinking: The movie lays out some uncontested facts. Kony is a bad guy who's risen to the top of the International Criminal Court's most-wanted list, accused of unspeakable crimes against humanity.

Values: The movie is about values on the grassroots and global scales. We meet young Jacob, who witnessed his brother's killing by Kony's soldiers, themselves presumably kidnapped into rebel service. We see Jacob melt into sobs. We feel the injustice.

Senses: The film is a visual feast with just the right number of disturbing images, including flashes of mutilated faces. The video also offers things you can touch, e.g., the Kony 2012 action kit, which includes a bracelet. Hokey?  Maybe. Effective? I think so.

Social: The movie is packed with join-the-crowd messages, embodied in the bracelet, and throngs of chanting young people. An iconic inverted pyramid conveys the way that power, via social media, has devolved back to the people. A movement is afoot.

Although pulling the four relevance triggers won't always deliver virality on the “Kony 2012” scale, it's a solid way to frame your communications initiatives. Either way, I just know I'm heartened to learn that in a cynical age, we can still be moved to help children. 

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, and how you can make your own cause – personal, commercial, or global – more relevant, too.

Andrea “Andy” Coville is CEO of Brodeur.

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