10 Reasons Why the #IceBucketChallenge Is So Successful

Juanmi Díez

29 August 2015

In July, Eugenio de Andres came to visit us for a #TcDesayuno and share his story about the creation and growth of his social awareness campaign, Medula para Mateo (M4M). The campaign was started by his family to raise awareness for young Mateo’s illness and the lack of bone marrow donors. Just a few short weeks after Eugenio’s visit to TcMadrid the #IceBucketChallenge phenomenon began popping up on social media sites. The basics of both campaigns are similar, but the Ice Bucket Challenge has viralized much further than what M4M saw. Whether you like the challenge or find it stupid, you can’t ignore the fact that it is a phenomenal digital marketing campaign.

A quick overview of the #IceBucketChallenge:
Who started the revolution? Former Boston College baseball player and ALS patient, Pete Frates.
His 1st challenge: July 31st, 2014. Frates challenged a number of his friends who happen to be professional athletes.

The cause: To raise awareness and funding for ALS and his foundation, Strike out ALS (What is ALS?).
The challenge: To make a video in which you pour a bucket of ice water over your head, post it to your social media site and challenge your friends to do the same and/or donate $100 to the ALS research.
The donations: On August 26th, donations reached $88.5 million (approx. 67€ mil). To give you an idea of how quickly donations are coming in, just a day before on August 25th, donations were at $79.7 million (approx. 60€ mil). *These are donations to the ALS Association and do not include donations made to other ALS foundations or organizations.
See here for more details about how it got started.

Charity fundraisers are nothing new. Traditionally they are offline take the form of costly walks, runs, swims, galas, dinners, etc. The big question in every marketers mind is, how can this $0 campaign have made such an impact? The answer is, by going viral.

As digital marketers we all struggle to find the perfect formula to get our content to go viral. Let’s take a look at the viral factors that the #IceBucketChallenge has working in its favor.

  1. Sheer luck.
    There is no perfect viral formula, it all comes down to luck and whether or not the internet will catch on.
  2. High visibility.
    The Ice Bucket Challenge (and M4M), dispersed the message through friends and contacts who were professional athletes with well established online communities.
  3. Sheer stupidity and mindlessness of the challenge.
    Unlike the M4M that requires certain medical testing and a time dedication, the Ice Bucket Challenge has relatively no barriers to participation. It is content that can be created and viewed by users of all ages.
  4. Consistency.
    The challenge is simple, pour water on yourself or donate the money and share it on your social media account.
  5. Reach.
    The reach is farther than traditional offline fundraising since anyone can participate and it’s based online. Traditional fundraising events are typically based offline, while there can be online components, it’s usually restricted to a certain location and number of participants. The #IceBucketChallenge also requires users to nominate their friends to continue the challenge chain which expands the network.
  6. Genuineness:
    The challenge was not some scheme though up by a marketing department as a way to gain some extra earning. The original message and regenerations are transparent without any sort of corporate gimmick that are typically likely to scare away users.

We have some of the factors of how the video went viral, but the next question is,
what is driving people to participate and not just watch the endless videos of others?

One of the biggest factors that we’ve found is that the challenge is for a charitable cause. So what motivates people to donate?

  1. Someone asked them to give, and they want to help them.
    With each challenge, people have been nominating 3 or more of their friends to help the cause with a video or donation.
  2. They was emotionally moved by someones story.
    The challenge started by putting a face on the disease and taking it beyond acronym ALS. It also inspired others diagnosed to share their stories, including Patrick O’Brian and Anthony Carbajal
  3. They feel they´re changing someone’s life.
    It goes hand in hand with someone having a moving story. People feel embraced by the cause and that they are actually making the difference to help find the treatment or a cure by sharing their challenge.
  4. They want to be ‘hip’ and this is in style.
    Let’s be honest, nobody is going to be that guy who doesn’t man up and do the challenge, of course if your bro or BFFL nominates them, they have to do it and make it public.

Like everything online, there is a limited lifetime that it will continue to go strong. The #IceBucketChallenge is still seeing participation, but people have started evolving the challenge into something beyond ALS. They’re changing the liquid, the amount, the cause but all in all they’re still raising awareness about something.

The potential fundraising has forever been changed with this movement, but will it be able to be reproduced as easily or with as much success? Most recently, Miley Cyrus has used her status as an award winner at MTV’s VMA Awards (Aug 24) to bring awareness (and donations) to homeless youth in America. One thing that can be said about this movement and that is that the bar has been raised and only time will tell if it a similar model can be replicated.

For your viewing pleasure, have a look at the variety of #IceBucketChallenges that exist.

Photos: Pete Frates and Barry Chin/Boston Globe Staff