An Ice-Cold Marketing Phenomenon with Lessons for Your Next Campaign

August 28th, 2014 by Bill

Rob Shiveley Ice Bucket ChallengeIt’s been the social media sensation of Summer 2014. It’s also a brilliant viral marketing campaign for consciousness raising.

I’m talking about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, of course, where a camera captures your reaction as a bucket of icy cold water is dumped on your head, and is then shared on your favorite social media channel with a challenge to friends or family to do the same—all as a way to increase awareness of ALS.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been great for expanding knowledge of ALS and boosting charitable donations for the ALS Association (ALSA, www.alsa.org). But I’m not the only professional marketer who has wondered what we can learn from this social media and pop culture phenomenon: In her blog post, Melanie Taylor—a social media strategist at Ogilvy—discusses Five Learnings from the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

The challenge has gone viral in a remarkably short amount of time—one of the first recorded versions was broadcast on June 30, 2014, on the Golf Channel, according to Wikipedia. In less than two months, the phenomena has circled to globe and earned the participation of celebrities and commoners alike, from Oprah Winfrey to Sarah Palin to the teachers at St. John’s Lutheran School in Lansing, Michigan.

Here at McBru, we even played host to one of our clients as he responded to his own ice bucket challenge.

Ogilvy’s Taylor makes a number of points about how the Ice Bucket Challenge is different from a commercial marketing or branding campaign, but also notes several take-aways that apply “to any brand trying to create a movement.” Several key points:

  • The specific cause matters. The Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t really take off until participants used a call to action, specifically putting the ALS awareness and donation appeal front-and-center of their videos. In fact, there has been intense push-back on social media when ice bucket participants have neglected to mention ALS or ask for donations during their videos.
  • Emotional connection matters. Taylor reminds us that “social media is about storytelling and sharing,” and with a narrative arc that blends a debilitating disease plus friends and celebrities doused in cold water, you have a combo that makes you care and eagerly anticipate your turn to be challenged. Because then you’re part of the story, too. “It’s challenging for brands to reproduce such an emotional experience, but to get this kind of traction, it is essential,” says Taylor.
  • Stunts need time to ramp up. On the one hand, the Ice Bucket Challenge managed to circle the earth in just six weeks. On the other hand, it took six weeks—which would be an eternity if you were a brand marketer and had promised a faster viral timeline to a client. “Most brands don’t employ that level of patience with a program. Instead, they invest in a huge push at launch; and if it doesn’t catch on immediately, it is often deemed a failure,” says Taylor. “True social movements, however, take some time.”
  • When you do the right thing, it resonates. Most of us know someone with ALS, and realize what a devastating disease it is. The Ice Bucket Challenge has taken off because giving money and calling attention to the need for research is, as Taylor notes, “simply the right thing to do. Let’s not forget about it when we move on to the next social media craze.”

Have you taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge? How did it feel to become personally involved and help propel the cause forward? If you’re a marketer, what lessons have you learned from the campaign? Whether or not you have been doused, donated or are cheering for others, it’s an interesting case study in how to stir interest through a grassroots, organic effort that benefits a worthy cause. And don’t forget to donate to the ALSA!

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One Response to “An Ice-Cold Marketing Phenomenon with Lessons for Your Next Campaign”

  1. Janel Pettit Says:

    Thanks for documenting our Ice Bucket Challenge, Bill!,(https://www.facebook.com/McClenahanBruer) along with fascinating insights about this summer’s phenom. I agree that an emo connection is key. Along with video. Super visual, more than a hashtag. It’s easy. We can pretty much all gather up a bucket with water and ice (or improv in respect of water resource shortage). We get to hear our names on social, and, we get to challenge anyone! Keep it simple, meaningful, visual, and fun with guardrails but room for creativity.

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