Ice Bucket Challenge – Insights for Marketers

August 25, 2014

By Bill Duggan

When did you first hear about the Ice Bucket Challenge? I was vacationing on Cape Cod during the first week of August and heard about it on the local news from Boston. It told the story of Pete Frates, a former baseball player from Boston College (my alma mater!), who has been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / Lou Gehrig’s disease) and how his friends and family used the challenge to raise awareness about the disease and Pete’s situation. Newscasters not only reported the story, but challenged colleagues and even competitors – and that became news the next night.

The ice bucket challenge has become a viral sensation and marketers have joined in. Ronald McDonald has taken the challenge as has Coca-Cola’s Wendy Clark with help from the Coke polar bear, and many others. The challenge has provided some observations and insights for marketers:

  • The power of community – interestingly, although the challenge reportedly did not originate with Pete Frates and ALS, it took off when Pete’s friends and family used it to draw attention to his situation and they involved the local greater Boston area community. That’s Pete in the pic above.
  • Keep it simple – the challenge, including donating to ALS, is simple.
  • Make it participatory – invite friends and colleagues to take part.
  • Make it sharable – social media allows participation to be shared.
  • The power of video – video helps tell a great story.
  • Celebrity acceleration – celebrity involvement has accelerated the spread of the ice bucket challenge and generated broad national media coverage.
  • Make me feel that there is “good” – the charitable component of the ice bucket challenges creates tremendous goodwill.

Of course, the ice bucket challenge has gotten results. Awareness is undoubtedly through the roof. And according to information on the ALS website, as of Sunday, August 24, The ALS Association has received $70.2 million in donations compared to $2.5 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 24). Donations have come from existing donors and 1.3 million new donors to The Association (including me!)

The ice bucket challenge is a terrific case study – experiential marketing, grass roots marketing, cause marketing, social media. Perhaps this is a once in a lifetime “strike of lightening” for the ALS Association. After this short-term hoopla dies down (and it will), I look forward to seeing how the ALS Association keeps the momentum going.

comments (1)

James Speros

August 27, 2014 9:19am ET

I completely agree with Bill Duggan's comments. The Ice Bucket Challenge demonstrates the power of an idea -- one that's fun, surprising, engaging, makes its audience feel good while leveraging the power of their networks and connections to others. What's NEW, however, is the fun/surprise factor of watching someone pour water on themselves. We've all been solicited by friends and family to support walks, runs and rides for a variety of very good causes. If we're not actually participating, we contribute by going to a site, clicking a link and we've helped the charity or cause. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge adds a new element of surprise and fun to fund raising by actually getting you to do something completely unexpected/surprising and share it with others. It's a wonderful example of what a simple powerful idea can do for the greater good.

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