Have you seen this video? I saw it for about a week on my Facebook news feed before I watched it. Regardless of what you think about the intention – I think we can all agree, it’s a pretty powerful video. It’s a good example of marketing. And it’s causing quite the stir. I’ve got some thoughts about it. But if you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you do.
Pretty effective marketing right? Well, that’s just the point. It’s marketing. It’s one side. It’s emotionally stirring. But it’s not without it’s faults. And neither is the organization Invisible Children and they’re taking some serious criticism. You can read a great critical review of them here, and their response to some of this criticism here.
Point 1. I’m glad that it’s receiving criticism and I’m glad that they are responding to it. Dialogue is a good thing. Always.
Here’s the crib notes. Invisible Children is a not-for-profit. They’re a very financially successful NFP with a multimillion dollar budget. Multimillion dollar NFPs are few and far between to be fair, but when you get to a certain size it typically means that you are no longer running your show out of your mom’s basement. That means not all of your budget can go to programming. It simply can’t. This particular NFP is obviously big on advocacy, and there’s a reason that advocacy groups don’t generally get a LOT of funding and rely instead on fundraising. Advocacy doesn’t have a direct quantifiable deliverables – which is typically a requirement when applying for funding. Direct service, local programs, building schools etc – that’s quantifiable – people (funders, and especially government funders) like those stats. It feels good to give to an organization that you know 100% of your dollars are going to a new computer for a kid in need. No one wants to pay the hydro bill – as they say. So 35ish% of their budget goes to programming, it’s low sure – but it’s not as low as you might think it is. Large NFPs take people, and people take money. A little aside – NFPs are given a really hard time for staff salary which drives me crazy in general. Just because your life’s work is trying to do some good in the world doesn’t mean you have to work for free. It is unlikely that you are going to see the Executive Director of a NFP making multimillion dollars a year (though I’m sure there are exceptions) but it doesn’t mean they have to work their butts off and live below the poverty line because they are working with low-income populations. That criticism drives me crazy. Sorry. Rant over. The other large part of their annual budget is travel. Without crawling through their processes and their financials – this percentage does seem quite high and it is my hope that some of the criticism that IC has taken over the last couple of weeks will force them to take a look at those processes and justify or reform those practices.
Point 2 – Criticism is good. Financial reporting and questioning financial reporting is good. But people that work for NFPs (no matter what the cause) should not have to work for free.
Summary of point 1 and 2, IC seems to have gotten themselves caught up in a viral video – and while that was their goal, I think it went faster than they ever thought it might. If you’re goal is to have everyone in the world know about your NFP and your cause – it would be advisable that you have your ducks in a row before you start, or you are going to get ripped apart and your cause is going to go down the toilet right alongside your cause.
The video. I don’t like the video. Here are some things I don’t like about the video or the whole kony2012 movement.
1. I hate the poster. I think it prays on uneducated paranoia and American’s current hatred and fear of bin Laden. I understand why they have used the images they have – it’s because they are effective. They get you riled up. But they don’t encourage you to do your own research. I don’t like that. Kony is clearly not a nice person, but he’s not Hitler. 1 child soldier is too many, but 30,000 (questionable statistics) over 26 years, are not 10 million+ in 5 years. It’s not on the same scale and I don’t like that they’ve drawn on those heart strings and guilt to correlate the two.
2. I don’t like the bracelet. Although like the poster, I understand the reasons behind it. For some reason completely unknown to me, people like bracelets these days, and people like getting some small token to show not just that they’ve done some good – but that they haven’t given their money away and gotten nothing in return. People are weird that way. But this bracelet in particular is a red string (Kabbalah) with a dog tag (military) and a serial number (Holocaust). It’s like imagery overload and I hate it.
3. While I understand the rationale behind the movement, making a war criminal into a celebrity makes me nervous for the same reason outlined here. This guy’s army is made up of children. His bodyguards are children. If you were a bad person and you though the whole world was coming for you, would you go politely and turn yourself in? Or would you arm yourself as much as possible which in your case means kidnapping more children and use them as human shields. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stop the guy, but doing it so publicly with such hoopla makes me nervous.
4. The video is geared toward youth. I may be able to read into the video and pull out what I don’t like about it, and what I do. I can Google Kony and Invisible Children, I can see the imagery and criticize it, make my own opinions and follow-through as I see fit. But I’m 29, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of or researched some of these issues. I know the world isn’t rainbows and sunshine. What concerns me is the millions of children who will be overcome with emotion from this video, those that the imagery will take over them. That they will go to their parents and say “I need to do something” and their parents will be so overcome that a video has made their video-game playing isolated privileged children CARE about something that is going on outside their own little world will blindly send money and engage with IC without questioning or researching the organization. I worry that parents and teachers won’t take the opportunity to teach their children about the world, about how NFPs work, engage in the conversation and will blindly follow like little sheep.
So, to recap – I don’t like the propaganda boasting poster, bracelet and video target. And the whole thing makes me nervous. I hope that parents and educators will use it as a starting point for conversation, and apparently IC is planning a new video that goes into more detail about next steps and their goals for the year, how they want to go about Kony2012, etc etc. Use the conversation. Question. Question. Question. Notice the imagery and don’t get swept up in the viral-ness of it all or the flashiness of the video.
And that leads me to my final thoughts:
To be honest I wasn’t really in love with the idea (and I’m still not – if that isn’t clear yet) until the last 2 minutes of the video, and again, I understand that it was designed this way. What this kind of awareness building does/has the potential to do is flip that triangle. And that is pretty amazing when you think about it. This is the potential of social media. And this is the potential of this campaign. Kony aside what the people over at IC have done is asked millions of people worldwide to consider what they spend their time thinking about. They’ve given millions of people the opportunity to act in really simple ways. Sign a pledge. Share a link. If it works, it has the potential to make millions of (largely) youth take ownership of their own political freedoms, and their own political process. But it’s really risky. If it doesn’t work then IC has only given millions of youth something new to be apathetic about. And that’s why the conversation part for me is so important. You can’t just sign a pledge, share a link and save the world. It takes time, and it takes true engagement.
For my part, I do not plan to send IC money. I will not be putting up a poster (though to be honest I am curious to see how their April 20 plan plays out.) But I am writing this post – I’m engaging in conversation. This post coming a week+ after the huge backlash against the video and IC is intentional. Let’s keep talking about it, keep IC in our radar and remember that there are issues out there in the world that deserve attention.
In University when I was studying the Holocaust the question that kept coming up was “how could political leaders let this go on?” and I was always of the firm belief that there was a war going on. Problems with global anti-semitism (of which there were plenty) aside, the threat of Hitler taking over the world was real – first things first – win the war. In this case, the threat of Kony taking over the world is not there. There are really excellent arguments that Africa does not need white Americans to come in and “save the day,” and I agree – it’s colonialism plain and simple. But the fact of the matter is – we live in a global society, and while the “savior” paradigm is dangerous – so is sitting back and thinking, until we solve all the problems in our own nation we have no business engaging in the problems of other nations.
When my kid is studying this in history class (and hopefully media class) 20 years from now and they ask me what I thought or did at the time, I do not want to have to say to I didn’t agree with how the leading agency spent their money or all of their strategies so I disengaged from the conversation. Or that I spoke with only those I see in person and left it at that. I’m committing to engaging in the conversation, and I encourage you to as well.