TOP Talk

Lessons Learned from the ALS #IceBucketChallenge: The Social Campaign that Made Ice-Cold Super Hot

Posted August 20, 2014 By Marian Hughes

Topics: Social Media, Thought Leadership


In addition to raising tremendous awareness and funds for ALS and adding a whole lot of silly fun to our last month of summer, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from this viral marketing hit. Here are a few to remember:

Sometimes You Don't Have to Be Original, Simply Make a Good Idea Better

One of the most surprising things about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is that it isn't original. The Ice Bucket Challenge has been used before as an awareness effort. The first time I heard of the challenge was this past Spring when my daughter and her middle school friends were posting Ice Bucket Challenges on Instagram for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. A group of golf pros kicked the concept into high gear this summer, and it was Greg Norman's challenge to Matt Lauer of The Today Show that seemed to put the stunt on center stage. At that point, the challenge was not the ALS Challenge. In fact, Matt donated to another charity of his choice. It was Pete Frates, a 29-year old former Boston college baseball player who is fighting ALS and his friend and fellow ALS patient Pat Quinn of Yonkers, New York, who saw the opportunity to turn up the volume on this social fundraising idea for the benefit of ALS. It started with this simple, fun video posted on Facebook in late July, and the rest is history.

Pete Frates

Start with a Passionate Inner Circle

At the beginning, it was Pete Frates and his friends who turned the Ice Bucket Challenge into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, not the ALS Association. Pete's story is inspirational and his friendships forged during college, athletics, and his work for ALS, helped fuel the momentum of this campaign. According to the Wall Street Journal, the ALS jumped into the marketing mix on August 8 by sending an email to its 60,000 person mailing list encouraging them to do the ice bucket challenge and include a link to the ALS Association in their posts. The campaign started with people living with ALS, as such it was built on a strong credible foundation and fueled at its core by an authentic passion for the ALS cause.

Embrace the Season

Let's face it, the Ice Bucket Challenge is silly, unexpected and down-right fun and summer is the perfect season for embracing it. People are relaxed, carefree and take time off to have fun with their friends and family. It's also the hottest time of the year. What's not to love about a cold ice bucket full of water being dumped on your head during a hot summer day? As video after video floated across my social feeds, I was reminded of the silly Call Me Maybe videos that kept us laughing during the summer of 2012. Lesson learned? The season and the spirit of the season should be factored into planning marketing campaigns. Timing is everything.



Build Momentum with High Profile Supporters

One of the things that gave the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge such momentum is that everyone seemed to swallow their pride and join the fun with their own unique twist including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Steven Spielberg, Brooke Shields and Ethel Kennedy. This overwhelming endorsement and support from musicians, celebrities, politicians and athletes gave the campaign credibility and fueled its migration. It's become just as much fun to watch the videos as it is to anticipate who will be challenged next.

Healthy Peer Pressure Can Be Powerful

It's safe to say that most people don't want to let down a good friend. And that is exactly what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was all about -- continuing a good thing for the sake of friendship, fun and inspiring others to get out of their comfort zone in a quick, fun, easy way for a good cause. When appropriate, a dose of good, healthy peer pressure can take a marketing campaign to new levels.

The campaign may have had a few critics, but love it or hate it, its success is undeniable. Here are two additional articles on other lessons learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge that you may find insightful. But before checking those out, take a moment to watch this powerful video about Pete Frates and his Fight to Strike Out ALS as well as this ESPN story on his involvement with the Ice Bucket Challenge. I tip my hat to you Team ALS on a job well done. Thank you for using good, clean, silly fun to turn the spotlight on your important cause and making us more aware and informed about ALS and the need for a speedy cure.



Marian Hughes

About Marian Hughes

Challenging the status quo. I love stepping back and analyzing a PR program to determine if there’s a better way to move our clients closer to their goals. I'm constantly scouting out innovative new approaches, tools and technology – anything that holds the potential to really deliver. And, when I discover one with merit, there's nothing more rewarding than getting up to speed, putting it into action and generating big results – that, to me, is hitting it out of the park!