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Matt Damon’s Toilet Strike: Will Water.org’s Awareness Campaign Go Viral?

By on Friday, February 15, 2013

I first heard about Matt Damon’s toilet strike campaign to raise awareness about the need for clean water from PR Newser – a great score for a nonprofit fueled by Damon’s celebrity involvement, since PRNewser usually worries more about big corporate PR failures and dust-ups in the media than nonprofit campaigns.

The YouTube spot announcing the campaign (which cost in the five figures for nonprofits thinking about emulating it) features a spoof press conference (the journalists are way too tidy to be real) where Damon announces he is going on a toilet strike and delivers some key statistics about toilets and clean water which can save lives. More than 780 million people worldwide don’t have access to toilets and more people have cell phones than have access to toilets (and good sanitation).
The campaign website invites users to get involved by loaning their Facebook statuses or Twitter feeds for a few weeks to share key information in the buildup to World Toilet Day on March 22nd. It also asks them to share photos supporting the strike using hashtag #strikewithme and streams photos onto its campaign site, and promises more videos and follow-ups.

According to an article in the UK Guardian, the campaign was influenced in part, by the success of nonprofit Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign (which I wrote about here and here) which is still getting hat nods in conversations about whether or not ads can be manufactured to go viral. The Kony 2012 video got tons of views and people talking and watching a LONG video – even if the grassroots organizing component around a day of action didn’t work so well.

Will the combination of celebrity, humor, connections to media giants Google and YouTube, and social media involvement fuel the campaign going viral? Maybe. The spot strikes an almost oppositional tone, but it has gotten people talking about something none of us normally would talk about – which is at least the point of starting a campaign. A Google news search for “strike with me” yielded 81,200 results.

Water.org has designed their campaign with easier involvement pieces than the Kony 2012 project and a shorter video, with the benefit of star power and powerhouse online media pushing the campaign. This campaign may take off where Invisible Children’s project didn’t. I’m rooting for it to go well.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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