Making a Splash: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It has been impossible to open up any form of social media in the last month and not see someone completing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Despite great debate over the effectiveness of this social media craze, ALS charities have announced donations in excess of $41 million dollars due to this series of internet videos. And this great result contains some even better marketing lessons when it comes to charity-focussed cause marketing!


Who would have thought that dousing yourselves in ice-cold water would take off around the world?

For those of you who are yet to see the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (and this can really only be achieved through a complete moratorium on social media), the premise involves challenging people to donate to an Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) charity or tip a bucket of ice-cold water over their head. And the challenge reached new heights yesterday as it left reality and entered the puppet world with Kermit the Frog. Check out the video below:

This madly viral sensation has attracted some significant doubters who have criticised the practice for various reasons including wasting water and not actually raising awareness for ALS. While there is certainly some merit to their arguments through most videos lacking a mention of any specific charities or encouraging people to donate, there are definitely enough videos promoting awareness which has resulted in the massive monetary windfall that has hit ALS charities over the last month.

It would have probably been more beneficial for the charities if the challenge involved a sentence of two about the disease, however the medium through which viewers are watching the videos provides easy access for the curious to search ALS on their own. In fact, it may actually be more beneficial for the awareness without any scripted phrase.

Too much control by marketers removes an element of organic fun that comes from dousing somebody with a bucket of freezing cold water. There are plenty of similar strategies that have been implemented by commercial brands which have failed to achieve this enormous organic growth and the most likely reason lies in the control. By allowing participants to put their own spin on the challenge, make up their own dialogue and feel social responsibility to carry through another friend’s challenge, the activity has retained its spontaneity. It also provides increased incentive for viewers to watch the videos as every video is unique – rather than tuning out as you hear the same catch phrase repeated over and over again.

But this isn’t the only effective component of the strategy. There are two other notions working together to take this craze to such great market proliferation. Celebrities and personalisation.

Every kind of celebrity has participated in this challenge. Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, Talk show host Jimmy Fallon, Broadway star Idina Menzel, Tennis great Roger Federer, TV chef Jamie Oliver, the World’s fastest man Usain Bolt and even Pop Star Britney Spears are just some of the celebrities who have tipped a bucket over their head and challenged three people at the end of the video. Even when challenged by friends, the challenged have the opportunity to enter an exclusive club alongside these famous celebrities providing great incentive to create a video.

Luckily, it isn’t all about watching people tip ice-cold water over their head. The recent trend in these challenges has involved participants drenching themselves in ice water AND donating money to an ALS organisation while also encouraging the non-challenged people to also donate to these worthy causes.

Who knows where this challenge will go next? All I can say is . . . Come on Barack Obama!

The best participant is Bill Gates (or at least the one who put in the most effort). Check it out: