Five lessons from the ALS Ice Bucket challenge

Ash Farr
By Ash Farr | 12 September 2014
Ash Farr, CEO, McCANN Australia

With a 3,500% increase in donations, a huge spike in the number of donors and an unprecedented global reach, it’s hard to overlook the social impact of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been exposed to this feel-good cultural phenomenon.

At the end of August, the ALS Association announced that donations had reached $100 million – up from $2.8 million in the same period last year. To put that success in context, it took Livestrong – the last big-idea charity marketing initiative to make a cultural impact – one year to reach $50 million in donations when it launched its yellow bracelet cancer-awareness campaign in 2004.

The Ice Bucket Challenge worked because it managed to get a complex balance of many things working in tandem. Applied in the correct proportion, the following five ingredients can deliver results for most brands.

1. Gamification: we’ve known for a while that integrating gamification into marketing activities can make them more engaging and rewarding for target audiences. ALS built this in by asking participants to nominate friends or acquaintances to take the challenge. Game on.

2. Peer pressure and social capital: no one wants to be the guys who says no, especially when it’s in aid of a good cause. In a world where people are more concerned with their online persona than real life, this is a surefire way to generate involvement.

3. Fixed entry level: asking participants to donate $100 if they don’t take the ice bucket challenge kept the rules clear and set a benchmark for donations.

4. Sociability: asking participants to film their ice bucket moments and share them on social media accelerated the speed by which the message spread. More importantly, sociability allows a brand to become integrated into people’s regular social media habit rather than interrupt their media experience.

5. Humour and likeability: watching people scream as the ice water is dumped on them is funny and ‘fail’ moments are even funnier. Humour goes a long way in achieving likeability and effectively delivering a message.

No matter what category you operate in, you should be thinking about how to apply these five lessons in your marketing activity.

As far as the ALS is concerned, the question on most people’s lips is what happens next? The ALS Association is unlikely to replicate the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge next year, at least not on the same level. The same goes for other charities or organisations thinking of adopting a copycat approach: whatever comes next has to feel fresh and new.

But that does not detract from the incredible injection of cash that ALS can now use in its mission to fund research that can eventually slow down amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known in Australia as motor neurone disease.

Ash Farr
McCann Australia

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