The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: A Teachable Moment in Social Marketing

Unless you have been under a rock waiting for your dial up connection to chime “you’ve got mail,” the Ice Bucket Challenge is hardly news. It is everywhere. From Bill Gates and Oprah to Justin Bieber and Chris Pratt, it seems as though everyone is doing it. Also, my mom and maybe even yours.

For the uninitiated, the concept is pretty straightforward: after you’ve been challenged, either donate money to the ALS association or make a video of yourself dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. Seriously, it’s that simple. If you’re like most people, you’ll do both. Because who wants to be the jerk who just dumps water on their head for funsies, right?

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, according to The ALS Association. There is no treatment. There is no cure.

And the challenge is working. The ALS Association has received $88.5 million in donations compared to $2.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 26). The numbers are astonishing. How did ALS, a disease most people had no idea existed prior to this challenge, manage to exponentially increase donations over such a short period of time?

Three words: Smart Social Marketing

Below are three main points we can take from this and apply to any other social media campaign:

It is available to anyone and everyone. One of the most important jobs of a social media campaign is mass appeal. The more people who want to know about what you are doing, the better. Make the campaign as applicable to Oprah’s life as it is to a middle-America first grade teacher. Most everyone who has the time to be on Facebook has access to a bucket, some ice and a smartphone for recording.

It takes minimal time/effort to participate. Most people would love to run a marathon to raise money for charity but the amount of time and effort it takes to train for such a huge undertaking is not very appealing. The Ice Bucket Challenge is as simple as it sounds. It takes about ten minutes, imploring even the most commitment phobic to join in.

Trend Pushes Necessity. Remember when the iPhone came out? You couldn’t bear one more day without illustrated text message bubbles and apps (not that you even knew what they were, but you knew you needed them. Like now.) These days, to be “trending” is a powerful thing. Nobody wants to be left out of the experience and, as a result, we feel compelled to participate. That’s where the Ice Bucket Challenge really wins. It capitalizes on our subconscious desire to give, and the tangible fun of joining in.

Chances are, one or more of your friends is out there at this very moment, preparing to accept the challenge. Love it or hate it, you’ve definitely been talking about it. Or you’ve spent countless hours (you can never get back) laughing through “Ice Bucket FAIL” videos on YouTube. Either way, you’ve got to admit, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a totally genius idea.

It’s just… kind of obnoxious. But in the end, isn’t that exactly how it should be?