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How the Ice Bucket Challenge Became a Worldwide Hit – It’s a Meme

Posted on the 22 August 2014 by Iangreen @GREENComms

icebucketThe latest viral internet hit is the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ – you nominate someone to dump a bucket of ice water over them – which of course is filmed and posted for your networks to see online. Millions of #IceBucketChallenges later and you have a social media success.
The idea was instigated to support the ALS Association, which carries out research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – otherwise known as motor neurone disease. Why is it a viral success? The answer: it’s a potent meme.

It has all the characteristics of meme-friendly communications:

  • It’s coherent
  • Lives long enough to be passed on to a third party
  • It’s easily copy-able
  • It’s ‘sticky’

Add the ingredients of high social media potency: make it visible, shareable and networkable – and you have a great viral success on your hands.

Where does the idea go now?

Potential future activities could be to link the idea to a specific day – ‘Ice Bucket Challenge Day’ – or to a trigger or prompt, such as when the weather exceeds a certain temperature you go out and mark the occasion with the Pop-Up equivalent of ‘Ice Bucket Challenges’.

One weakness of the meme is that it’s name and activity is not integrated into the name of the charity. So, we will witness more people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge oblivious of, and independent of any supporting charity link.

Perhaps, the originators should have integrated a message into the act of ‘Ice Bucketing’ such as having to shout out, ‘Motor Neurone!’, so as to strengthen the connection between the act and the charity.

What this episode signifies is the potency of powerful memes and the possibility of linking positive messages and acts of kindness to them.

I helped nurture the Blue Monday meme – ‘symbolically, the most depressing day of the year’ on the third Monday of January. Ironically, it depresses the Hell out of me how mental health charities have been slow, or reluctant to seize upon its potency.

I’m almost tempted to throw a bucket of cold water over them!

Maybe that could be another extension of the idea, ‘Ice Bucket Wake Up Calls’. What’s certain if you want to make a splash, cook a meme.


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