What We Can Learn from the #icebucketchallenge

August 23, 2014

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly had your Facebook timeline inundated with friends, family, and celebrities doing the #icebucketchallenge. Everyone from people you don’t know to Mitt Romney (in a suit!), former President George W. Bush, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have dumped large buckets of water on their head to raise awareness and support to fight ALS. I recommend a short article by my ERLC colleagues Andrew Walker and Joe Carter to help you discern where to allocate funding for ALS research.

But I want to think through what helpful things we can learn about why this successful viral campaign worked.

1) It was easy to understand and easy to execute.  Very simple. Take a bucket of water and pour it over your head (or have someone pour it over your head), record it, post it, and tag someone else who has 24 hours to do the same thing. It’s easy to do, costs no money, and takes a few minutes to execute.

2) It humanized people. Think about it. Because of the cause behind the campaign, we saw famous people doing to themselves what we would not ordinarily see them do. There is a curiosity of seeing a politician in a suit drenched with water. #icebucketchallenge gave people an excuse to do a fun quirky thing and support a good cause.

3) It raised awareness in a non-traditional way. Regardless of what you think about this viral trend, you have to admit that more people know about ALS now than they did a few weeks ago. “What is ALS?” has been a conversation in offices, backyards, and church lobbies around the country. How many people opened up their smart phones and said to someone else, “Did you see ____ do the ice bucket challenge?” It proved you can advocate serious issues without taking yourself too seriously.

4) It leveraged new media well. This campaign leveraged new media tools everyone has: a smartphone with video and social media accounts. This type of campaign would have been difficult to execute ten years ago. But today, everyone knows how to capture video on their phones and everyone is online. Most of all, it was painfully easy to do, requiring little technical expertise (however, it did require some . . . bucket expertise. See this link for all the challenges gone wrong!)

5) It was original. So many social media campaigns that “try to go viral” don’t because they are copycats of other campaigns. No doubt there will be many who will try to ape the #icebucketchallenge and a) be less successful and b) annoy everyone with a lame copycat. Being first and being original and being creative always wins.

6) It asked for money without doing the standard “ask.” This campaign invited people to participate in the campaign and actually become fundraisers without even realizing it. Each time someone accepted the challenge and then nominated someone else, they were, in effect, asking them to support a cause financially. People are more willing to give of their time and resources when they feel empowered and invited rather than accepting a typical, top-down appeal for money.