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Ice Bucket Challenge: brief post-mortem of a clever campaign

Imagine one second that you’re the owner of the least sexy brand in the world. You strive to keep your head out of the water in a sea of competitors; the ones with the largest market shares and shares of voice. What would you do if you were in the same position? Pray and hope for the best? Or perhaps you’ll just end up being a little bit lucky like the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis marketing folks (henceforth known as ALS in the entire world).

David against a couple of Goliaths

Regardless the unclear origins of the phenomena, what started in July with the Ice Bucket Challenge literally embodies the wildest dream of the modern marketer (especially for the ones who work for those challenger brands that are living in the shadow of the category leaders). In the US, you’ve got some disease charity monsters like breast and prostate cancer and heart diseases that are pumping millions of dollars every year. They’re respectively raising $257.85M, $147M and $54.1M.

As of now, some sources have stated that ALS’ social media campaign has received $100M in donations compared to $2.8M only at the same period last year. You’ve got quite something here to make an Effie judge cry of joy.

The ingredients for a quick uptake

I think it was one of the cleverest charity campaigns of all time and probably the most efficient one of the year. As Scott Gilmore pointed it out in his article, the Ice Bucket Challenge has ticked all the boxes: it’s easy to do, entertaining to watch and most importantly: narcissistically self-promoting. Plus, I’d add that the influencers uptake played a big part in the success of this campaign. Users probably thought: “If Bill Gates does it, it should be okay”. That said, I think there are a lot of learnings for marketers (think of all the social media failures these days).


Source: nydailynews.com

To go back to the narcissism aspect, I think we need to give and take. Yes it was really about living a 60 seconds of glory (at the end of the day, it’s the reason why we use social media) but I do believe there was a fundamentally nice human gesture behind it. Moreover, the campaign brought the awareness levels of ALS to unexpected heights. And because of the challenge, people have actually researched online to find out what the heck is ALS, a quite fuzzy concept before the campaign.

ALS Ice Buck Challenge - Google Trends

Google search for “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” (Source: Google Trends)

Even though I disagree with the ones that entirely associate the campaign to a mean to boost some social media egos (millions of them actually), I can understand that there was a sense of “social media awkwardness” at some point. When a video pops up in your newsfeed of your aunts, cousins, grandparents and even people who don’t have a Facebook account, you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit weird about how far this campaign actually reached.

What’s your take on the Ice Bucket Challenge?

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