Marketing lessons from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It has been tough to avoid the viral success of the past month, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Started by a young guy from Boston suffering from ALS he could have never dreamt of the hype it turned out to be. Raising $53 million between July 29 and August 22 compared to $2.2 million in that same period last year and $63 million in the whole of 2013 makes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge one of most effective social media campaigns in history. What is it that has made this campaign so effective?

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#1 Peers
A family member or friend inviting you to do something or making a suggestion results in a greater likelihood of you actually doing it compared to an outsider doing a request. When your best friend challenges you to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, openly on social media, the chance that you will do it is far larger than if the ALS Association would challenge you. Besides, you are always challenged by somebody who has already done it, which allows the hype to increase awareness incredibly quickly. Making something personal can make the difference, because somebody has actually nominated you increasing the likelihood that you will follow.

#2 Celebrities
George Bush, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and many more all accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Seeing celebrities and some of the most powerful (business) leaders of the world doing something like this makes them an ordinary person for a minute or two. Everybody can see their humbleness and vulnerability and our role models are suddenly equals, they are also part of a team like everybody else. The feeling we are in it together is widely spread, increasing the likelihood that more people will follow.

#3 Timing
There are a few aspects that contribute to the perfectness of the timing. After all the horrifying images of the ongoing fights in the Middle East and the crashed plane in the Ukraine, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge came as a feel-good counterpoint. Furthermore, people have more time, are more relaxed and in a better mood during summer when schools are off, working days shorter and holidays close. Finally, stating the obvious; dousing yourself with ice water would not be a great hit in winter.

#4 Simple
One of the key points of this challenge is that everybody can do it. It is fun for the person who is doing it and it is fun for the viewer. The rules for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge are very simple; accept the challenged, pour a bucket of ice water over yourself or donate for ALS. Afterwards you get to pick three people who are challenged next. It doesn’t take much time, everybody can do it and one doesn’t need anything special. For every person who completes the challenge two extra people are nominated, ensuring an amazingly fast diffusion.

#5 Social media
Finally, one of the most important elements of the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is the fact that it all happens on social media. It is a medium that is accessible to everybody, it allows posting of video’s which gives more of an experience than a photo, but the most important reason is that it combines all previous elements. It is the easiest way to access your peers as well as the celebrities you follow, which ensures spreading amazingly quickly.

In conclusion, the main goal of making something a marketing success is to ensure that it spreads, that more and more people hear of it and ideally start participating; the Snowball Effect. Even though nothing was planned about this campaign the factors mentioned show the most important elements that have ensured the success the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has become. I highly doubt something like this will have such a great effect again, but it is great to see what a video on Facebook can lead to.

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