Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why did Cover the Night fail?

Joseph Kony
Joseph Kony

Jason Russell (who spearheaded the Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign and then single-handedly caused it to fail) should have consulted Randy Olson. 

Randy Olson, author of the book Don't be Such a Scientist, is a scientist-turned-filmaker who believes that the key to communicating complicated or controversial science topics to the public is made up of four principles: [1]

  1. Don't be so cerebral:
    • Just use normal everyday language that everyone can understand and relate to. And don't let your brain be the only organ you rely on (see the "head heart gut groin" concept below).
  2. Don't be so literal-minded:
    • Use the "arouse and fulfill" method.  Don't just jump straight to the answer. Make them salivate first. 
  3. Don't be such a poor storyteller:
    • Tell an engaging story without sacrificing accuracy. 
  4. Don't be so unlikeable:
    • This one explains itself.

Even though Olson was talking about communicating science, the general theory still holds for conveying any idea. The failure of the Cover the Night campaign can also be explained by the "head, heart, gut, groin" concept [1]: 
  • head (reason)
  • heart (emotion)
  • gut (instinct)
  • groin (sex appeal)

The lower you go, the more powerful and longer-lasting the connection will be. 

Presenting the plight of the children to the public using facts, figures, and interviews (head) moved people to want to do something to help (heart). 
But when the controversies came out, people had doubts (gut) and moved on. 
Our attention is better held by the concept of hundreds of people spooning simultaneously (groin) instead, on the date that Cover the Night would have taken place [3]. 

The follow-up video "Kony 2012: Part II - Beyond Famous" barely even got any attention. It tried to combat the doubts people had about the campaign by throwing facts and figures at the audience. 
According to The Guardian, the second movie "does not seem to have captured the public's imagination in quite the same way as Invisible Children's earlier video did." In fact, Google statistics show that the second film got less than 2% of the Internet traffic as its predecessor. [4]. Ouch.
I would have seen that outcome a mile away: the second movie stopped at the Head level, while the first movie tapped into the Heart. Everyone's Gut reactions against the first one also played a major role in biasing everyone against any sequels before they were even created.

So not only did viewers find reasons deeper than the Heart level to ignore the Kony 2012 campaign, but Russell just isn't that likable. It's kind of hard to take someone seriously after they have a mental breakdown. [2] Another pointer Russell could have gotten from Olson was that if you want people to listen to what you have to say, then you really ought to get them to like you first.

Now let's look at a more successful piece of advertising.

You may recognize that as a commercial for Nike Free Run+. The reason I call this commercial successful is because it actually made me consider buying a pair of Nike running shoes. (Which is odd, since I don't even like Nike shoes.) 
Don't get me wrong, they look cool and all, but I have never worn a Nike shoe that gave me the arch support I need. 
Those of you who know me understand what a stubborn hard-ass I can be. So saying that I almost bought a pair of shoes from a brand that I don't even like is saying something. Now that's some good advertising!

Looking at the YouTube video's page, it was published April 4, 2012. 
As of April 23, 2012: 

  • It has 1,291,411 views. That's an average of almost 68,000 views each day! 
  • The video has 6,877 likes and 148 dislikes. That's an average of more than 350 likes each day! Only 2% of the people who voted did not like the video. If 98% of people like a commercial, then I think we can safely say that the general population enjoyed it.

But why is the ad so successful?
The answer is easy; just remember Olson's tips.

  1. Don't be so cerebral.
    • The actors use the same language we use every day. They don't drone on about burning ATP to mobilize towards each other out of attraction! They say "I love you so I will run to you."
  2. Don't be so literal-minded.
    • It takes more then a five-second clip of each of them running to meet. As each development happens in each runner's route, we wonder what will happen next, and if they will actually be able to pull it off. (Oh my god, I think that guy really might die!) We are aroused as the runs unfold before we are fulfilled when they meet at the end.
  3. Don't be such a poor storyteller.
    • The "story" is engaging but still accurate: complications arise during each run that have believable outcomes. The girl asks the guy on the tractor for directions and he points out where she should go. The guy collapses in a puddle of his own vomit and gets rushed to the hospital. These plot points make for a good story because we can easily see those are things that could happen during a run across the country.
  4. Don't be so unlikeable.
    • Plain and simple: We like the runners. We can all relate to the problems the guy goes through during his run, though probably not quite to that degree of comic destruction. We find ourselves rooting for them to succeed. (Who wouldn't want two lovers to meet after a long and difficult, yet successful, journey?) And let's face it: that girl is smokin' hot. Who on earth doesn't enjoy watching a hot girl running?

The commercial also fulfills all four organs in the "head heart gut groin" concept: 

  1. Head:
    • The song is catchy and gets stuck in our heads, the rhyming is clever, and the guy makes a very logical point that they could have just flown instead.
  2. Heart:
    • Two lovers running across the country to meet each other? Dawww...how adorable!
  3. Gut:
    • We trust the believable outcomes of the obstacles in our guts, and we bust a gut laughing because the guy's fate in hilarious.
  4. Groin:
    • The girl is hot, and what happens after the commercial ends is "left up to our interpretation".

Moral of the story? Easy:
Aim for the nuts, and don't get caught ranting in public...naked.

[1] Olson, Randy. (2009). Don't be Such a Scientist. Washington, DC: Island Press. ISBN 13# 978-1-59726-563-8. http://www.dontbesuchascientist.com/HTML/SYNOPSIS.html
[2] Wikipedia. Jason Russell breakdown. Retrieved April 20, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Russell#Breakdown_and_hospitalization
[3] NPR. The Social Media Shuffle: From Kony to Spooning. Retrieved April 20, 2012 from http://www.npr.org/2012/04/19/150964208/young-people-turn-from-kony-to-spooning-record?ps=cprs
[4] Reception to Kony 2012: Part II. Wikipedia. Retrieved April 20, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kony_2012#Reception_2

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