MarketingSocial Media

H ow ALS Struck Marketing Gold with The Ice Bucket Challenge

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Zoey Smith Aug 27, 2014
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Local Green Bay radio and TV personality John Maino performs the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Photo by Rauglothgor

On August 17th, The New York Times reported had raised $13.3 million dollars from its Ice Bucket Challenge campaign. One week later, Fox News reported the viral video sensation had raised $53 million dollars. In one week, this social media blitz raised $39.7 million dollars. But more valuable than the money is the name recognition. From here on out, ALS as a brand will be competitive with HIV/AIDS and cancer charities which, no doubt, have people working on video challenge campaigns of their own right now. The success of the ice bucket phenomenon has taken a disease so depressing that its own advocates had difficulty talking about it, and turned millions of people into champions for the cause.  Let’s take a look at the 5 key elements that made this campaign so successful.

1) They Got the Basics Right: Visual, Short & Funny

At the core of every challenge video is a person you probably know who starts out dry and finishes drenched. Even the long-winded clips are fast for the donors to make and quick for an audience to consume. The horrific reality of ALS takes a back seat to the slapstick fun of watching close friends, family and superstars being doused with ice water. For many critics, this approach felt shallow given the trauma this disease inflicts, but the first step for was to rebrand the disease into something the public wants to talk about.

2) Vanity

Those experienced in raising money know how big a part the ego plays when it comes to philanthropy. It’s common practice for a charity to immortalize a donor’s name on a plaque, or with a significant enough donation, maybe on a building. The Ice Bucket Challenge flips the script on this common non-profit transaction. No engraving needed. No construction crews required. Instead, each donor is offered a small chance at becoming internet famous.

3) Social Pressure

That touch of black magic marketing that has made The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge explode are the challenges at the end of each video. By tagging three people in a video a donor has ensured:

  • At least three people will watch it
  • Those three will almost certainly LIKE the video thus sharing it with all their friends.
  • They’ll make a video of their own, because all their friends are now waiting to see how they respond to the challenge..

The Ice Bucket Challenge takes the usual “charity guilt trip” and gamifies it into a YouTube enabled version of “Truth or Dare.” All the pressure is coming from someone in your life. A friend, a family member or maybe a fan you’d hate to disappoint.

3) Made for Compilations

The original video was great but everything is better when given a second life as part of a YouTube Compilation. The Best Fails, The Best Celebrities or just The Best of the Best. These collections serve to reach an even larger audience and provide extra motivation to the next potential donor when a challenge comes their way. Each secretly (or not so secretly) hoping to make The Best Ice Bucket Challenge video of them all. Which, unless you are Patrick Stewart, you did not.


4) Empathy

Watch someone touch a hot stove and you might notice your own hand twinge. See someone bite deep into a ripe, juicy lemon and feel your own face wince. The Ice Bucket Challenge piggybacks off this phenomenon with the raw instinctive reaction to sudden frigid temperatures. When you watch the face of Benedict Cumberpatch go from calm British pose to an indignant impression of a glazed doughnut you know that the water is legitimately cold and it’s as if you are being dunked yourself from the safety of your cubicle.

5) Emotion

Emotional Ice

Not everyone is motivated by humor. For those more serious minded people, the secret sauce to The Ice Bucket Challenge’s longevity is the truth of how awful the disease really is. Stories from those living with ALS were ignored just a few short months ago. Now, personal accounts detailing what it’s like to live with ALS have become badges of pride for anyone who donated their time or money. The motivation to act may have started as something shallow but as people learn more about the disease, that silly video they made to make their friends laugh turns out to have been part of something important. And they’ll remember that the next time comes hat in hand, asking for help to find a cure.

Contributions: Top photo by Rauglothgor


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