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The Subtle Genius of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted By Erin Maggied On August 18, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

If you’re active in any way on social media, you’ve probably seen dozens if not hundreds of posts of people issuing or taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Not only are ordinary people taking the challenge, hundreds of celebrities have joined in including the entire crew from the Today Show [1], Roger Goodell [2], and my personal favorite, Bill Gates [3]. What you probably haven’t seen is any post that reads:

“Bucket of ice over my head? No way. I’ll just donate $100 to ALS.”

That’s likely because most people don’t want to publicly back down from a challenge. But isn’t the fact that the viral nature of the challenge is focused on an alternative to donating its fatal flaw? After all, the program is supposed to generate donations, right?

It certainly hasn’t proven to be. As of Monday, Aug. 18 [4], the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $15.6 million – compared to the $1.7 million raised during this time last year.

In fact, that flaw is the subtle genius of the challenge: by taking the focus off donations, and creating a fun and visually interesting activity, it became easier to share. The challenge encouraged sharing based on an “I did it, now it’s your turn,” dynamic.

The phenomenon originated with Patrick Quinn and Peter Frates, two men living with ALS. Frates is a former captain of the Boston College baseball team and is now advocating for the cause. He took the challenge in late July and since then it steadily gained momentum – starting on social media and now being covered by traditional media—until it became unavoidable.

In case you’re one to have taken the challenge, but still are scratching your head about what ALS really is [5], let me shed some light on the disease. According to the ALS Association [6], amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” and is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Over time, motor neurons degenerate and die leaving individuals without the ability to control muscle movement which leads to respiratory failure and ultimately death. The life expectancy of someone living with ALS is about two to five years from the time of diagnosis.

It’s not surprising that this originated as a grass roots movement. It’s hard to imagine it coming out of a formal planning session because it is so counterintuitive. You can almost hear the objections being raised as the idea was presented: “What? People dump ice on their heads instead of donating? How does that help us?”

Yet this simple and often comical act has helped not only create awareness, but more importantly engagement. And from those came donations.

A small portion of these proceeds came from my social network. I took a brief poll last night and found that a handful of my friends who have taken the challenge, have also donated to the cause. A few individuals in my network even included the donation in their video – kudos.

I’ve been reading a number of articles about the challenge the last couple of days and you’ll see a large number of advocates, but also a few opponents. One article [7] that was recently shared on my social feed was about the monetary value of the cost of goods (ice, bucket, etc.) and the time spent setting up the challenge and posting to social media. His point in being you can skip that step entirely (and cost of supplies) and just donate to the cause. While I see his point, without those ice buckets, most of the world would never have been exposed to the issue.

There are probably multiple lessons in this story for marketers, but here are two of the most obvious:

  1. Engagement is powerful. If you can get an audience engaged with what you do, even if it doesn’t directly lead to a sale, you’ll benefit in the long run.  Because this challenge was so simple, the organization benefited in more ways than one.
  2. Sometimes the best ideas come from outside the organization. Stay close to your audience and recognize that good ideas can come from anywhere.

Now, funny thing is, I write this and still have not been challenged. Any takers?

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    Article printed from Fahlgren Mortine – Marketing and Communications Blog: https://blog.fahlgrenmortine.com

    URL to article: https://blog.fahlgrenmortine.com/2014/08/the-subtle-genius-of-the-als-ice-bucket-challenge/

    URLs in this post:

    [1] Today Show: http://www.today.com/video/today/55875437#55875437

    [2] Roger Goodell: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/08/roger-goodell-ice-bucket-challenge

    [3] Bill Gates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS6ysDFTbLU

    [4] As of Monday, Aug. 18: http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-0818.html

    [5] what ALS really is: http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html

    [6] ALS Association: http://www.alsa.org/

    [7] One article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-kosinski/icebucketchallenge-why-yo_b_5656649.html

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