There’s been plenty of praise and criticism for the Ice Bucket Challenge and its potentially self-serving nature. But the challenge has raised millions of dollars, with the ALS Association reporting $100 million raised at the end of August.
Why is the Ice Bucket Challenge so successful? There are a couple of key traits that make it work and that can be applied to other campaigns or presentations.
It’s simple. Nothing could be simpler than dumping cold water on your head. Engaging people in a campaign or a promotion shouldn’t be difficult if the instructions are clear and easy.
The pitch is short and compelling. Presentations, talks, or videos should cut directly to the point, and engage in a little drama to keep people interested. Most of the Ice Bucket Challenge videos are very short (around a minute) and deliver a funny crescendo at the end, as the viewer gets to watch their friend get soaked.
It uses technology wisely. In terms of technology, a little research on best platforms and practices can go a long way. On social media, the challenge utilizes Facebook’s video feature to its fullest. The site’s algorithms push Facebook videos like the Ice Bucket Challenge to the top of people’s feeds for maximum view ability.
It lets people take a “selfie.” Let’s be honest, recent technology has fueled our narcissistic sides. People now love selfies. A campaign that allows people to feature themselves in a fun way, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, makes them more likely to participate.
It leverages social networks and personal relationships. Personal connections in campaigns and presentations motivate people to listen and participate. The Ice Bucket Challenge uses the challenger’s social networks organically – it makes the user connect with friends and engage them in their efforts, while their friends, in turn, are excited to be nominated.
The tie to the cause is subtle but concrete. In an average Ice Bucket Challenge video, the user doesn’t engage in a lecture about ALS, but they do mention the cause in the video description and the video itself. The challenge name itself reinforces this tie to the cause while keeping the overall tone light and inviting viewers to learn more on their own.
On this last point, it’s important to note that these aspects of the Ice Bucket Challenge have generated attention, but not necessarily change. For a terminal, challenging disease like ALS, the Ice Bucket Challenge –which allows many users to “participate” without actually engaging and committing to the cause –may be a good way to raise awareness. But it might not be able to sustain awareness over the long haul.
The success of this challenge will undoubtedly spawn imitator campaigns in the months to come. The question is which can marry the viral appeal of this campaign with a mechanism that causes each person to carefully reflect on what they are doing and how they can have a longer term connection to the cause. That would be the holy grail of viral marketing!
In the meantime, it’s fortunate that at least some subset of participants has become aware of ALS – and may start or participate in more campaigns to sustain awareness for this disease.