YouTube Interventions to save the rhino

Kathryn McConnachie
By Kathryn McConnachie, Digital Media Editor at ITWeb.
Johannesburg, 16 Feb 2012

While videos of cats playing musical instruments and overweight people dancing account for some of the most viewed videos online, it's always been a challenge for serious causes to gain even a fraction of that exposure.

However, an innovative online campaign by advertising agency Oglivy Cape Town has managed to harness some of the attention given to frivolous viral videos and channel it towards the fight against rhino poaching. So, if you were watching a funny video online recently and suddenly found yourself confronted with the reality of rhino poaching, you may have been subjected to a YouTube Intervention.

The YouTube Interventions campaign, developed for the Forever Wild project by the Wilderness Foundation, involves a series of remixed versions of trending and classic YouTube videos. Aimed squarely at people who actively search for stupid viral videos, Ogilvy says “these Trojan horses force them to confront the reality of how they spent their time online”.

As part of the Wilderness Foundation's lobbying campaign, it created an online petition which it intends to take to the highest governmental powers around the world to change laws regarding the importation of rhino horn into foreign countries.

Viral hijacking

Ogilvy's copywriter for the campaign, Sanjiv Mistry, explains: “With a pending audience before Congress, Wilderness Foundation felt that a global petition was the best way to push for legislative change. WF had started the petition on their own before they came to us. Their brief was that nobody was signing it, and they needed a way to jump-start the signing of it.”

Mistry says since signatures were needed from people around the world, they initially thought they would need to create their own viral video. “But creating something that you can guarantee will go viral is practically impossible, because there are so many variables. Then we had the bright idea to hijack other people's successful, trending videos and piggyback our message onto those. Finally, we realised that the medium itself (time-wasting silly videos) could become part of the message.”

People are quite militant in their defence of their right to waste their time online though, and Ogilvy took a pragmatic approach towards the potential backlash. “We knew we'd irritate and anger some viewers, and we knew we'd anger some content owners. That's why it was part of our strategy to make so many videos,” says Mistry, adding that out of a total of 65 videos, only three were pulled. The pro-bono campaign generated 11 000 Facebook “likes”, over 300 000 views and signatures on the petition increased by almost 400%.

Speaking of the effectiveness of online campaigns, Mistry says the team from Ogilvy really does hope this petition will make a difference. “But we also knew that part of our task was to raise international awareness of the severity of the poaching issue. It's a goal that we feel we've taken a few steps towards accomplishing.”

Big ideas

Social media manager for the campaign, Chris Rawlinson, says organisations trying to gain online exposure for their causes should see if they can latch onto trends and stories already gaining traction online or offline, adding “locally Nandos do this very well”.

Generally speaking, negative shocking footage doesn't work so well online on its own; few people want to share a bleeding corpse with their friends. Make it as easy as possible to share your content, and try and start a conversation with relevant influencers online. These can be hard to find, but will pay dividends when you need a favour or a hand spreading a story.

“One of the great things about the Web is it's easy to test things cheap and easily, if they work then great, if they don't then try something else, you will soon find what works for you and what doesn't.

“Never underestimate the power of a big idea; they often change the world,” says Rawlinson.