The Virility of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Campaign and Why You Ought to Participate

Ice Bucket Challenge Marketing

By now, you’ve probably seen enough ice bucket challenge videos on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks to make you pray winter comes early. And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably seen a lot of differing opinions that have followed in the wake of the movement. Some common ones I’ve seen are:

  • How does dumping cold water on your head help ALS?
  • The people who are creating videos and not donating are not helping
  • People are using this and the cause for attention
  • ALS Association is lavishly spending and not using the money as people desired

Whether you like it or not, I’m going to provide yet another opinion. This time, it’s from a marketing perspective – through the lens of use of viral content. Something many marketer folk try to emulate but few succeed with. So here’s the effect taking place. The best way I could think to describe the cold-and-wet phenomenon is through basic analogy. I’ll preface with how this describes how even posting a video without (gasp!) contributing cash could actually make a difference.

Non-Digital Viral Effect

So, let’s say you’re a person walking down a city street and you come across a young homeless soul who looks like they need some immediate help, perhaps at least a meal. They look ill and frail. Someone’s quick financial help sparing just a couple bucks could provide some nourishment and make a difference.

But let’s say you have no money, or just don’t want to spare any, but you don’t want to just walk away either. Instead, you turn to somebody also walking by and challenge them. You propose to give a couple of dollars to help this person buy a meal or, as an alternative, help you some find somebody who will.  

The approached person may say “you know what, I don’t have the money to spare but I do have a little bit of time, so I will accept and help your recruitment effort.” They then reach out to somebody near and they make the same proposition. Maybe that person then encounters the same situation and spares their time to help spread awareness. Someone will turn to another person who will turn to someone else who turns to somebody else and ultimately you’ve created a large network of people all working together for a unified cause. The unified mass may not be contributing directly to the solution, but indirectly, they’ve created a powerful awareness army who will ultimately spread to someone – or most likely a myriad of people – who have the money and willingness to spare.

Viral Ice Bucket Challenge Network

The influence of the recruitment effort in this hypothetical eventually has a greater effect than the few dollars that would have been spared in the beginning. In the case of the “ice bucket challenge,” many may not even realize they’re contributing to this effect. The viral campaign might not cure the disease in the same way the hypothetical homeless subject gets their sandwich, but it demonstrates the power of influence. Some cynics are proving unable to think through the shallow surface to uncover the true impact. It explains how sharing ice-dumping videos on social media – even without donation – helps this cause. There is a message that flows through a messenger, then a network of messengers to achieve a defined result. Content marketers often try to spark this effect and nurture to a ubiquitous blaze.

Why Don’t Marketers Leverage this Effect?

Unlike viral videos or other media forms, elements are there in this case for a really successful viral effect. Quick and low-commitment to participate, ability for participants to showcase themselves and get creative, compelling cause that influences participation, a “challenge” that influences people to meet. If the cause wasn’t as compelling, would people still pursue it? If it involved creating a video about ALS without ice, a bucket or a challenge would anyone participate? All the nuances align here that influence desire to take part, which an often organic occurrence that is quite difficult for marketers to emulate so perfectly.

As for the Haters..

Some folks might be doing so for attention, generating creative scenarios which are often over-the-top (see Bill Gates’). The intentions of participation may be attention-craved in some cases but what really matters in the end is the effect it has. The effect here: from July 26th to this post the ALS Association has raised $15.6 million. That’s less than a month-long period. This is compared to only $50k in last year’s same period.

Regarding conjecture on the foundation’s use of the funds… welcome to the world of non-profit. The business involves little regulation on how your donated money is used regardless of how you hope it is. This doesn’t make it okay in this or any case, however, think about the awareness of the disease that’s spread. This being an ailment that few even knew about before this trend. When a supermarket would ask to tack a $1 donation to your bill for ALS, you may not have been likely to comply without knowing what it was. Now and going forward for years, I think more people will because of recalling this campaign. Talking about ALS, writing about it and understanding it helps pave the way for progress in helping find a cure as awareness hits the people who could make a huge difference. In the end, the long term, indirect effects that this viral challenge will have will be pretty significant for a historically relatively neglected disease.

Every Drop Counts

For those who have not participated in this or other benefits to greater good – perhaps under the old philosophy of “what difference will one person make?”… the effect this fundraiser is having should be your answer. There’s a great old saying “no single raindrop believes itself to be responsible for the flood.” It works both ways. Individuals taking action on something has a collective impact.

So kudos to all those who have helped make this unprecedented campaign a phenomenal one, and show the world the immense power of influence through digital means. If it’s not your bag then, hey, this might start a trend of charitable viral social challenge campaigns and one may hit that grabs you. For now, I’d implore you to let fundraising and good vibes flow.

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