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Marketing with a Cold Shower: Analyzing the Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted on the 09 September 2014 by Marketingtango @marketingtango
  • September 9, 2014
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Marketing with a Cold Shower: Analyzing the Ice Bucket Challenge

As marketers, we all dream of creating a campaign that goes viral. But of course, we don’t get to decide what goes viral! That’s up to the audience.

As the most effective viral efforts demonstrate—like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge—the audience becomes the marketer and creates their own content.

Maybe you’ve already taken the challenge yourself. In case you’ve been off the grid for the past month, the craze consists of a person pouring ice water over his head, and then passing on the challenge to three other people who must accept within 24 hours or contribute $100 to benefit the ALS Association (or a favorite charity).

The phenomenon didn’t start as a marketing campaign, and wasn’t even tied to a specific charity at first. But in little more than a month, the Ice Bucket Challenge has inspired three million new donors to the ALS Association, including numerous Fortune 500 brands, billionaire CEOs, rock stars, A-list actors, and professional athletes.

$100 Million in One Month

According to the ALS Association, “Donations as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge have exceeded all expectations and The ALS Association is tremendously grateful for all of the gifts by individuals, corporations and foundations.

“Through Friday, August 29, The Association has received over $100 million, with donations ranging from under one dollar to $200,000.” During the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29), the charity received $2.8 million in donations.

Viral Tips for Marketers

If you want to create content with the potential to go viral, check out these lessons drawn from AdAge and NewsCred, plus a few of our own, that integrated marketers can apply to their own efforts to generate awareness and support.

1. Make It Fun and Simple

There’s no denying that it’s fun to see people’s goofy reactions when they get cold water dumped over their heads. (In fact, there are compilations of ice bucket fail videos!)

Some people have gotten quite elaborate with their ice bucket videos (Bill Gates built his own bucket-dumping contraption; The Foo Fighters reenacted the prom scene from the movie Carrie). But all it really takes to participate is a bucket of ice water and a phone that shoots video. Anybody can do it.

2. Make It Personal and Local

“If a brand had launched something like this, chances are that you’d have marketers all over the place trying to control the message,” writes Anne-Marie Kline in AdAge. “But this challenge enables people to tell their own stories.”

The Challenge started to take off in mid-July, according to, when professional golfer Chris Kennedy accepted and “then called out three others, including his wife’s cousin, Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband, Anthony, is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – more commonly known as ALS. Kennedy then kicked in $100 to help fight a disease which so far has no cure.”

Senerchia kept the ALS connection with a donation to a charity she and her husband founded to benefit underprivileged families suffering from the disease: the ALS Association. From there, it spread exponentially through their neighborhood in Pelham, New York, to the wider ALS community, and of course, far beyond.

3. Make It Competitive

Part of the secret to the success behind the fundraising effort is that it’s a very public challenge with a short deadline of 24 hours. It’s prompted rival companies to call out their competitors and families to challenge their friends and relatives to step up.

4. Make It Uplifting

ALS has no known cure. The causes of the disease are also a mystery. Despite the campaigns detractors, the Ice Bucket Challenge turns a depressing subject into an opportunity for people to feel good by supporting a cause that’s much bigger than themselves or their organization, all while having a laugh watching people get doused with cold water.

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