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GUEST POST: How the Simple Age-Old Narrative is Viral Video Gold

Susan Boyle must be furious with last week’s revelation that Invisible Children’s near half hour tape on warlord Joseph Kony has outranked her in the all-time viral video charts. This week, the viral video that keeps on giving saw, Invisible Children’s founder Jason Russell rolling around naked and suffering from dehydration on a LA corner, before being taken to hospital. (This description of his actions is among the more sedate offerings to what he was in fact up to). Nevertheless, how did Russell create the worldwide viral phenomenon that was the Invisible Children video, through the simple means of narrative?

The Campfire

From campfires to YouTube the story has been a way of entertaining, delivering messages and keeping interest for as long as homosapiens have existed. In the Kony case, the story is one that manages to use every form, kind and sort of trick to keep us interested in the tale. Russell who narrates the video over simplifies with heart rendering talk, with his young child.

Of course, just like the literary devices of old, each character in the story represents something. Kony is the evil, warlord, Russell the good guy, the child the future of mankind and Jacob, the Ugandan former child soldier a flawed individual, for whom the human spirit still reigns supreme – a little Disney, but it worked.

Emotive and About Us

Russell also manages to bring our own emotive response into the story, through showing the birth of the child. This creates a link. Whether people think about their own children being snatched up by the African warlord, or even take on the notion, that it could even have been them –  this all makes for intrigue and engagement.

The story also has a very American, white Anglo Saxon approach. Russell is there to rid Africa of blight, in a similar way to the manner in which priests and missionaries were to cleanse Africa of paganism and superstition. This will also intrigue a certain element of the audience and keep them interested as it is something that for many creates a sense of comfort and can be associated with stories of childhood.

It Could be Someone we Know

Russell’s Humanist like narration also rings true here and can do nothing but plea to the higher emotions in us. Phrases such as ‘Every single child is born this way’ are all introduced to appeal to the better sides of ourselves and to consider that this child could be anyone in of our families or friends children, or for that matter even us.

Of course the visual side of the narrative is also interesting. Many have said the camera moves in a similar aggressive manner to that of the viral Old Spice Adverts. The constantly moving single camera takes in all sorts, from guerrilla footage, to protests, abduction re-inactions and meetings with politicians. This creates an exciting thrill a minute type feel to the video and ensures we judge Kony as the ultimate villain.

The narrative was strong enough to create a conclusive emotive response and so created action. This saw a number of celebs that retweet and post the video.  This fashioned that push to go viral as it  gives it the ‘celeb bump’ and also validates your feelings on the whole matter – as people larger and more powerful than you have helped it go viral. All of this together creates a feel good factor and means you’re only too happy to repost, so others feel the same about morally concrete charity, no one could ever criticise.

Though, a simple narrative, the story itself is an essential part of the viral piece and shows the evolution of simple storytelling and its timeless importance.


Article by Cormac Reynolds. My Social Agency.  A UK based social media agency.

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