The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Social Media at its Best

ashleymc    March 10, 2016


Show of hands: how many of you have poured a bucket of ice water over your head? Had I asked this question two years ago, most of you probably would have thought it was a rather bizarre thing to ask. But, I’m guessing that most of you reading this have, in fact, poured a bucket of ice water on your head or, at the very least, know someone who has.

In the summer of 2014, the phenomenon known as The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept across social media. It was hard to go even a few hours without seeing someone on Facebook or Twitter posting a video, bucket in hand. While it might have seemed like an odd phenomenon, the beauty of this challenge, and the reason why it was so successful, was that it was for a good cause: ALS awareness and research.

The ways in which this campaign had an impact on ALS awareness demonstrates the power of social media. Everyone from your neighbour to the world’s biggest celebrities seemed to be taking part. It started with one person, Chris Kennedy, a minor-league golfer from Florida, and eventually reached people like Oprah, Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg.

When it started, the Ice Bucket Challenge called for people to simply donate to their favourite charity and it had nowhere near the amount of awareness it would eventually have. So, when it reached Chris Kennedy, he chose to donate to ALS research because his cousin’s husband was suffering from the disease. He nominated three friends (including his cousin) and the campaign spread quickly throughout his town—400 videos with pledges to ALS research were posted within a week. The video then reached two key figures: Pat Quinn, who suffers from ALS brought the video to Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, who then nominated other athletes. The rest, as they say, is history.

The videos often went like this: 1) person thanks whoever nominated them for the challenge, 2) person mentions and/or speaks about donating to ALS research 3) person nominates others to partake in the challenge, 4) person pour bucket of ice water over their head (the more creative, the better for this part.) 5) Person uploads their video to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. Ideally, the challenge had to be answered within 24 hours. I took part in the challenge with my two cousins and had a lot of fun with it:


The Impact

“It was not just get a bucket of ice dunked on you; make a donation and spread the word.” – Claudine Cook, Executive Director, ALS Society of Quebec

The most important part of this campaign was following through and making a donation to ALS. While I’m sure there were plenty of people who took the challenge without donating, the impact of the campaign on ALS research is undeniable. In 2013, the year before the Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALSA Association (ALSA) raised $23.5 million. The following year, The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge brought in an astonishing $115 million to the ALSA and an additional $13 million to regional branches. That’s more than one hundred million dollars more than the year before!

In fact, The ALS Association received $31.5 million in donations compared to $1.9 million during the same time period (July 29 to August 20) the year before. There’s no arguing just how powerful this campaign was. As of August 2015, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had brought in $220 million worldwide.

Lessons for Others

So, does this still count as a marketing campaign even though it happened organically? I’m sure there can be arguments made either way but I truly believe that it should be considered marketing; even if it didn’t start as a marketing campaign, it certainly turned into one. Just take a look at what has happened since the campaign: there have been several copycats (some serious, others that seem more like parodies), though they likely will never reach the heights of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Considering the fact that less than 1 percent of Twitter clicks go to ads, companies should take note that the general public are far more likely to react to an organic, fun campaign verses an obvious advertisement.

The reasons the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was so successful:

  1. It played into people’s vanity. I know this sounds cynical but you can bet that there were tons of people who took part in the challenge but didn’t actually donate. Even if that is the case, the videos themselves still raised awareness.
  2. It was fun. People came up with all sorts of creative ways to take part in the challenge—not all fundraisers have to have a serious tone!
  3. It was simple. All you needed was a device to record your video, a bucket, ice and water. Easy peasy.
  4. It utilized “word-of-mouth.” Well, technically it’s a newer, digital form of word-of-mouth through social media. The fact that the challenge isn’t open ended and people nominate their friends and family directly by tagging them on Facebook or Twitter, was essential to the momentum of the campaign.
  5. It was for a good cause. While there are other social media challenges that had no point to them, the charitable aspect of this challenge allowed for a larger demographic.
  6. It was unique. When most people think of donating to charity, they think of attending an event or writing a cheque. This challenge was a more unique way of raising awareness, which means that people were excited to take part (and since it was one of the first of its kind, the novelty hadn’t worn off.)

When the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept across social media, it made a huge difference to the ALS Association and millions of sufferers across the globe. So, I guess social media is about more than selfies, isn’t it?

Organization: ALS Association (ALSA)
Industry: Charity
Name of Organization Contact: Claudine Cook, Executive Director of the ALS Society of Quebec

Authored by: AshleyMc

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