3 Lessons From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

3 Lessons From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

In the face of several less-than-successful viral social media campaigns, including Kony2012, distrust of those utilizing social media to bring attention to worthy causes abounds. However, with the advent of the latest social craze, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, marketers can learn a great deal about campaign virality, user generated content (UGC) and celebrity.

Though for those who are looking to take tips from this campaign, we still have to ask ourselves: for an act to be considered philanthropic, must the benefit to the cause be greater than the positive attention received? Are people who support a cause by performing simple acts less engaged or devoted to making a change?

The ALS’s Ice Bucket Challenge, which seeks to create awareness and research funding for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS), a severe neurodegenerative disease, differs from all preceding campaigns via its unique nature and virality, has generated over $ 53.3 million to date as a result.

How did this campaign avoid the stamp of slacktivism, and win the approval of thousands of people, and participation from celebrities like David Beckham and Bill Gates? How did the challenge raise $ 53.3 million in less than a month? And, since there’s no contest, no prize, no thank-you gift, what makes people do it?

safe_image.jpegThe Preferred Social Medium is Video

The basis of the Ice Bucket Challenge is to communicate via video as a call for donations and a way for friends to join in and increase the success of the campaign.

Instagram and Snapchat added video features to satisfy the audience need for sharing more with video. Videos have been compatible with Facebook and Twitter for what seems like forever. Talking to others and sharing expressions with video-capable devices allows us to feel closer, even when communicating with someone from afar.

Keep the Rules Simple and Loose

This challenge is unique in that it is so loose, that users can adapt their own rules. I can’t even count the number of my friends who’ve done the challenge without using water (in favor of water conservation) or dared their friends to do the challenge AND donate money to the ALS cause. Charlie Sheen dumped a bucket of $ 10,000 in twenties onto his head instead of water, and challenged three of his friends to do the same.   

The sense of ownership that these individuals have over the campaign lends a unique spin to each piece of content.  It’s the UGC (user generated content) aspect of this challenge that allow for its sharability and success.

Public Enthusiasm Will Lead to Celebrity Adoption

The challenge created even more buzz because of its inherent flexibility. While some opt to simply pour a bucket of water on their heads, others are using the opportunity to showcase their creativity and make videos longer than Vine or Instagram will allow. Entrepreneur Elon Musk devised a system for his five kids to dump water on him. Bill Gates built his own pulley system.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has its critics. Some say that it’s another excuse to post a selfie or that not all users mention ALS in their videos. Although valid points, the vast majority of videos do bring attention to the cause and many users donate as well as throw water. That’s the real test of all cause marketing – is it really making a difference or just a way to self-promote?

As a society, do we want to criticize the use of social media for a good cause when we don’t even fully understand its potential to change the way we think and act? The facts are that the ALSA has raised millions and hundreds of thousands of people have participated, millions have become more aware of ALS, and the campaign is only three weeks old.