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Matt Damon goes on ‘toilet strike’ to raise water awareness

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Matt Damon

Matt Damon relaxes behind the scenes as he prepares to jokingly announce that he’s not using the bathroom in protest of the 2.5 billion people who lack access to clean water and sanitation

(Los Angeles Times) – Matt Damon is on strike, but not from acting.

The Oscar-winning actor took the podium in a video released Tuesday to announce that he’s boycotting toliet use until more people begin to take the global water crisis — championed by his Water.org non-profit — more seriously.

But don’t take the strike itself seriously. Damon’s announcement comes in a humorous three-minute video released by the nonprofit group, the first in a series of videos shot at YouTube studios in Playa Vista that the organization hopes will go viral.

“The concept of experimenting with comedy to generate new levels of awareness and participation in the cause is something we’ve been toying with for a couple of years,” said Damon, who co-founded Water.org in 2009. “If Sarah Silverman and I can generate millions of views on YouTube for something ridiculous, then we should be able to do better for one of the most important and solvable issues of our time.”

In the video, Damon holds a mock press conference to announce that he won’t use the toilet until people pay more attention to the water crisis and fields comical questions from a room of reporters.

The piece was filmed for free at YouTube’s L.A. studios as part of the video-sharing website’s efforts to educate nonprofits on how to best use video campaigns, said Jessica Mason, a YouTube spokeswoman.

“Views are great,” Mason said. “But we also want to help nonprofits raise awareness and turn that awareness into action.”

Damon’s video is the first of the campaign, which is directing people to Strikewithme.org, where they can learn more about the water crisis, donate money and sign up to integrate their social media accounts with the effort.

Water.org also partnered with Maker Studios, which represents YouTube stars such as Shay Butler of the Shaytards, Lloyd Ahlquist of “EpicRap Battles of History” and John Elerick of “Gentleman’s rant.”

The YouTube stars appeared in the toilet strike video, and will also film and release reaction videos that the nonprofit hopes will propel the campaign out to their millions of subscribers.

Damon’s nonprofit has also pioneered an extensive social media integration interface, which allows users compelled by the video to “lend” their social media accounts to the campaign — setting up automatic posts to the user’s Facebook and Twitter accounts of Water.org’s content and messaging.

That peer-to-peer sharing is key to crafting a successful campaign, said Mike McCamon, who runs Water.org’s community outreach efforts.

The nonprofit hopes that outreach, combined with Damon’s star power, will be enough to earn the campaign a video spot among viral video elites like the Kony 2012 and Demand a Plan campaigns.

While humorous videos are new terrain for nonprofit video campaigns, ones featuring celebrities are not.

According to Visible Measures, a firm that measures the impact of viral videos, four of the 10 most popular online video campaigns by nonprofits featured at least one celebrity.

The key to leveraging celebrity in support of a charity or nonprofit is to create the perception of genuine buy-in from the endorser, said Amanda Guralski, a personal branding expert.

Some celebrities, such as Bono and Sandra Bullock, have successfully made their charitable work part of their identities, Guralski said. Others, she added, come across like they’re looking for photo opportunities and good publicity — and are less likely to convince their fans to take action in support of the organizations they work with.

“It has to come across that the cause is something that truly touches the celebrity,” Guralski said. “It’s got to be clear that they’re doing a lot more than writing a check.”

To his credit, she noted that Damon’s vocal history of charitable work and his long association with Water.org could help the video campaign gain momentum.

So will Damon’s toilet strike go viral? While the unpredictable nature of Internet sensations means there is no viral video secret sauce, online marketing experts think the campaign has a good shot at catching fire on social media.

“For online video campaigns, having the right celebrity and the right timing is the key to success,” said Steve Garfield, a Boston-based video blogger and author of  “Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business.”

“Matt Damon is huge right now. He took over Jimmy Kimmel’s show and he’s all over the place,” Garfield said. “Using him in a funny video is a great way for Water.org to increase visibility.”

wesley.lowery@latimes.com

twitter.com/wesleylowery