Why Did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Work?


I’m teaching an MBA Social Media Marketing class this semester. One of the most interesting things to happen this summer in July and into August was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and funds for the ALS Association. As of this writing, this viral fundraising campaign has raised over $88 million. By the time I hit submit on this blog post, it will probably be well over $100MM.

By all counts, a marketing sensation that rivals any other philanthropic cause in recent memory (#Livestrong, #Kony?).

So why did it work?

Why this and not the hundreds or thousands of other marketing efforts for other just-as-worthy causes?

Here’s my take:

1. It’s Personal. 

There is a personal connection to cause. Not necessarily a connection to ALS the disease, but a connection to our friends and family across the world. Notice each of the videos has a very specific call out to three people. If the challenge simply was to pour ice water on your head – it wouldn’t have worked as well. As you pour ice cold water you are calling out and tagging three very specific people.  By name.

With social media, we live in the reputation economy. What you do (and don’t do) online stays with you. This is why hotels, restaurants, Amazonians, Ebayers, and other online retailers are so concerned about their online ratings and rankings.  Your ROI is based on more than just what you offer, it’s how people perceive the value of what you offer. Reputation matters.

2. Call to Action.

Notice it’s very clear what you’re called to do.  Either donate $100 or pour a bucket of ice water over your head. You have 24 hours.

Car dealerships, furniture stores, and infomercials have this call to action down to a science.  Amazing sales this Labor Day only! 0% down, 0% financing, we’ll just give you the car!!  But you have to act now.  This sale won’t last forever! For our callers that call in within the next 20 minutes you not only do you get 3 extra knives, you get a companion luggage rack too!, etc.

3. Purpose.

People are more engaged when they sense they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Some people call this a higher calling or purpose. Either way, people want to know what they do matters.This makes them feel better about their lives and their relationships have more meaning.

This ALS Ice Bucket Challenge touches on all three components: Connection, Call to Action, Purpose.

What are your take-a-ways?

Have you taken part in this ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?  Why or why not?

Feel free to chime in and let me know your thoughts. You have 24 hours.

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