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Driving Forward > Digital Marketing Blog

Why Does the Ice Bucket Challenge Work?

Anyone who’s been scrolling through their social media feeds this past month (so virtually everyone), has probably seen their friends, family members, and co-workers dump freezing cold buckets of ice water on their heads. The challenge, designed to raise awareness of ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease) has gone completely viral, and other fundraising organizations are probably kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.

The challenge itself is simple – record yourself while dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, then nominate three others to complete the challenge within 24 hours. Failure to complete the task within the 24 hours suggests a donation to ALS research, although this is not enforced. In addition to raising awareness worldwide, the challenge has raised over $100 million towards fighting ALS.

What is it about the #IceBucketChallenge that has turned it into a social media phenomenon and prompted so many Americans to participate?

1. It’s simple. The challenge is quick and easy to complete. All it requires is a phone, a friend to film you (unless you’re coordinated enough to complete the challenge in selfie mode), and some sort of container full of water and ice.  Anyone can do it, and it only takes a matter of minutes. It’s an easy way to get involved and show your support for a good cause.

2.  It has entertainment value. Dumping a bucket of water on your head is such an unnatural action that it never ceases to be slightly jarring and therefore entertaining to watch. Some of the reactions and facial expressions of participants are priceless.

3.  Celebrities are doing it. The ice bucket challenge has reached the holy grail of viral content – celebrity endorsement. Many celebrities use their fame to champion good causes and they are used to being on camera, which makes the ice bucket challenge perfect for them. The celebrity endorsement factor is huge in generating publicity and popularity, as well as giving the challenge a certain “cool” factor.

4.  It plays to the narcissistic nature of social media. If the challenge was to go out onto the street and film a random person pouring ice water on their head, instead of featuring yourself, most likely fewer people would be interested in participating. Social media is largely personal branding, after all. So the chance to appear on camera in front of your followers for a good cause, while participating in a fun and playful activity, is something that is hard to resist for social media enthusiasts.

5.  It has a chain effect. The sheer number of participants taking part in the ice bucket challenge has gained it more publicity than money can buy. This is partially due to the nomination aspect of the challenge, which quickly multiplies the number of participants. If one person nominates three others, then those three each partake and nominate three others in turn, and it becomes like a modern day chain letter. The widespread and public nature of the challenge has made it a cultural phenomenon.

6.  It plays to people’s natural desire to do good (or at least look like they’re doing good). Most people would love to be seen as compassionate and making a difference. This campaign gives them that chance, while also allowing them to be recognized for it. As we all know, videos showing humanity at its best are very popular. Some participants, like Matt Damon, have added their own twist to make a difference – using toilet water in his bucket to highlight the cause for worldwide clean water. Or check out this inspiring, young participant whose heart can’t handle cold water, but used the challenge to promote organ donation. It worked, because I promptly checked my driver’s license to make sure it said “organ donor” after watching this video.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has all the components of a successful awareness campaign. It can be assumed it will serve as an example and inspiration for many successful social media campaigns to follow. Help #StrikeOutALS and donate today.

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