The “Ice Bucket Challenge” and What It Means for Marketers

By now, assuming that you’re on the Internet and have access to at least one social media account, you’ve heard of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and likely seen at least one of your friends or acquaintances—if not 100—doing it. If not your friends, maybe you’ve at least seen a celebrity doing it.

So what is the Ice Bucket Challenge? And more importantly, why should you as a marketer care?

The Ice Bucket Challenge was started by a 29-year-old Boston College alum who was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and sought to raise both money and awareness for the ailment. For the challenge, participants pour a bucket of ice water on their heads, subsequently calling out other friends to participate via social media as well. Those who are called out must pour a bucket of ice over their heads or donate to the cause.

“People want to do something for the world. They want to contribute, but they want it to be easy,” explains Christine Outram, vice president at DeutschLA. “It’s slacktivism: having something that makes you feel good but isn’t too hard to accomplish.”

Believe it or not, the viral marketing campaign—even if it didn’t start off as one—has raised $15.6 million over the past three or so weeks.

So why has the campaign been so successful? Let’s look at some of its elements:

  • Word-of-mouth. When your best friend tells you a product is good or a cause is worthy, such a statement obviously holds more water, pardon the pun, than hearing the same words uttered by an absolute stranger. Because the Ice Bucket Challenge typically is shared on social media channels amongst friends, the campaign had a greater chance of spreading.
  • Participatory. Most people like attention—particularly when it’s good attention. Raising money or awareness for a crippling illness is certainly a good thing, so everyone who takes part in the Ice Bucket Challenge will get their 15 minutes of Internet fame.
  • It started organically. Sometimes, the best marketing campaigns aren’t the ones conceived in the conference room after a five-hour discussion. As such, it’s important for marketers to keep in mind that they should always keep their eyes open because it’s you never know where the next form of inspiration will come from.

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