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The Internet Nominates Marketers to Learn From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Insights // August 28, 2014

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world” -Robin Williams

If your social media feeds weren’t jam-packed with #ALSIceBucketChallenge videos these past few weeks, you either live in a cave or have somehow managed to evade the internet campaign that’s sweeping the nation.

Rooted in awareness and advocacy against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neuromuscular illness also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has set a new precedent for online fundraising via social media. Its exhaustive reach is now undeniable to the online marketing community. This phenomenon has attracted an endless amount of participants, from your nextdoor neighbors to notable celebrities, politicians, and influencers such as President George W. Bush, Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Oprah, LeBron James, and others from around the world. As of today, The ALS Association has raised nearly $94.3 million since the ice bucket challenge inception. In less than one month’s time, they’ve raised more than all of 2013 ($64 million).

Psychology of a Viral Video

This campaign is an advantageous blend of awareness, friendly competition, and most importantly, advocacy for a terrifying disease. Its reach has risen to an unprecedented level with a light-hearted, social media-driven sense of peer pressure as its catalyst. A psychological theory of motivation can be drawn that, if you fail to participate, you are at the risk of developing “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). Let’s face it, individuals and organizations want to feel like they are part of the conversation at the “water cooler” or engaged with their social followers. The public nomination framework almost makes participation a requirement to avoid one from appearing apathetic to the cause. Once committed to accepting the challenge, the participant also gets the satisfaction of tagging and slightly humiliating a friend with a nomination of their own.

Ice to Boiling Water

So, how does a campaign born from a personal challenge between Peter Frates (a former Boston College baseball player living with ALS) and a few of his friends explode and become one of the most successful fundraising efforts of all time? Targeting influencers like pro athlete Tom Brady, one of the first nominated by Frates, is an intelligent start. Mix in emotion, a shareable hashtag, and a fun, timely activity in the midst of a hot summer, and you have all the ingredients for a viral video campaign. The natural advertising of social media platforms handles the rest, allowing for rapid delivery to the masses.

Even though this campaign has experienced exponential growth, there exists a growing slew of “shock jock” style naysayers who say individuals and organizations are throwing their support in the ring for the wrong reasons. Instead of being motivated by awareness and fundraising, some say the motivation comes from a narcissistic mentality that they don’t truly care about supporting the cause, but only about being a part of a popularity contest driving individual or brand awareness via social media.

Outlets such as The Huffington Post and Vice have published articles criticizing aspects of the Ice Bucket Challenge despite its wildly successful results. People have reacted strongly against these articles, which has made them highly shareable and big drivers of traffic to their respective websites – which may have very well been by design.

Is “Any PR Good PR?”

Looking beyond the Ice Bucket Challenge, we’ve all heard that age-old adage “any PR is good PR.” What if that cause is not aligned with your actual product offerings and brand? Is it worth running the risk of opening your company or site up to a firestorm of potentially damaging negative comments tied to these viral campaigns in the interest of the short-term benefits that come with the traffic and brand awareness?

There are inherent short-term SEO benefits for the online visibility of a company choosing to participate in any marketing campaign that appeals to millions upon millions of people, eliciting both positive and negative behaviors. Quality articles and video content that are highly sharable and scalable will undoubtedly generate brand awareness via company social pages, in turn hopefully increasing traffic to websites.

Sustainability

Is it sustainable? Just ask The ALS Association. It works. In fact, it continues to work for ALS in record numbers, with no end in sight. The association reported the challenge has brought over 2.1 million new donors to their website from July 29 to August 28. Long-term questions remain. Will these new donors remain loyal to the cause and revisit the site each year?

Regardless, this viral campaign has successfully managed to strike a perfect blend  of emotion and education among participants behind a worthy cause. But let’s face it, self-interest has played an enormous role, as people have enjoyed participating while promoting themselves or their brand. Viral videos and online campaigns are forever changed from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Its power is undeniable.