You could hardly miss it this week. The film Kony 2012 is a triumph of marketing. It's a viral video sensation with 76 million YouTube hits and counting since its release just days ago.
The Kony film shines a light on the plight of child warfare and atrocities committed by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Filmmaker Jason Russell created a narrative that juxtaposes video of his young son in California with the plight of the hopeless children of Uganda.
But what accounts for its influence over so many, so fast?
Here's how. Russell tapped into Twitter, Facebook, high schools, colleges and Hollywood to make it happen. While there are no silly cat tricks, there are heroes and villains and a purposeful, heartfelt call to action.
The clip caught fire because Russell urges viewers to reach out to celebrities with popular Twitter accounts to help spread the video. And spread it, they have. Kim Kardashian alone reached 13 million. Oprah tweeted the link to 9.7 million followers.
Yes, Kony 2012 has stirred up controversy. Russell's organization, Invisible Children, is facing questions about its governance and financial responsibilities. It's being criticized for simplifying the issue. Russell is quickly answering these concerns. On video – of course.
On the heels of this viral phenomenon, Invisible Children is now partnering with other nonprofits to launch a series of meetings between video supporters and their representatives in Congress to encourage action. And other charities are benefiting from the Kony halo. Groups such as Africare say they've seen donations spike since the video's release.
It remains to be seen what will become of this spotlight. But the Kony 2012 movement shows that you can activate the next generation in social engagement – in a purpose that's greater than themselves and silly cats.