Diving Into The ALS #IceBucketChallenge — Viral Success For A Cause
There is no doubt the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has taken the world by storm.
It all happened so fast, too. I received the challenge from my friend Adam Melson, and, to be honest, I had no idea what was happening. I woke up in the morning and thought to myself “Oh S#*t, do I really have to do this?!?!?”
Little did I know this was going to become the biggest internet sensation of the year (so far)!
How It All Began
The concept itself has a rather unclear origin with no apparent connection with ALS — some news coverage points to a tradition on the professional golf circuit where players challenge others by dumping ice buckets over their heads.
It gained its ties to ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and became viral in early August. Apparently, it began as a cooperative effort between former college baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed last year with ALS, and Pete Quinn, a Yonkers, New York, native diagnosed in May.
The original #IceBucketChallenge video for ALS was posted on Frates’ fund raising and ALS awareness Facebook page, which he calls Team Frate Train.
Meanwhile in New York, Pete Quinn was raising money for his own treatment under the hashtag #QuinnForTheWin, as well as funds for ALS research, and he garnered some local TV news coverage.
Since then it has taken off, apparently with a high concentration of shares and subsequent challenges emanating from the Northeast and especially the Boston area, where Frates lives.
The participation hasn’t been limited to the Northeast or even the U.S., however, with Facebook reporting that other English-speaking countries — Australia, New Zealand and Canada — are those that have the highest rates, though the social network says it’s reached nearly every country in the world. (In the UK, ALS is known as motor neurone disease , or MND.)
Viral And Fundraising Success To Date
The trends alone speak volumes. Facebook shared some of its data on Monday in which it found:
- 28 million+ users had joined the conversation about the ice bucket challenge
- An estimated 2.4 million videos relating to the ice bucket challenges had been created
- Hundreds of celebrities and notable people had joined in
On Google, we have seen an incredible spike in trending data.
As of August 19th 2014 the ALS challenge is still one of the most trending topics in Google.
Interestingly, Yahoo News is not returning the IceBucketChallenge as a trending topic.
Twitter still has it as trending as of August 20:
The ALS Association Quick To Respond
Though the originators of the meme weren’t specifically associated with the ALS Association, that organization has been quick to stoke the fires (or should it be “ice the buckets”?) of this campaign’s spread.
The organization’s first acknowledgement of the phenomenon came in late July when it retweeted the following tweet, which appears amidst talk of the group’s other fund-raising efforts.
But it didn’t take long for the Association to realize that this crazy phenomenon could be a really big deal. Since then the organization has responded by tailoring its Twitter page for the occasion, engaging in lots of conversations, and creating a special section on its web site to provide information about the campaign’s success.
As marketers, we all know viral success is great, but achieving financial results is what’s really important. In fact, the campaign has drawn some criticism from people saying that pouring ice water over one’s head doesn’t really do anything to help ALS and those with the disease.
That criticism is fairly easily silenced, however, since the ALS association has reported that it has received more than $31.5 million in donations since the start of the #IceBucketChallenge. This is remarkable growth, since last year during the same period the group raised just $1.9 million. (Just yesterday, the total number of donations stood at $22.9 million, so donations are coming in quickly.)
Marketing Industry Getting Involved
Among the many online marketers getting their ice bucket dumping on, as well as donating money to the cause, are highly regarded individuals in our industry like Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Meyer, and Bill Gates who have all poured ice water over their heads.
The founders of Google, Larry and Sergey, did it, as well, while wearing some awesome t-shirts from HBO’s show Silicon Valley. But they broke the trend of nominating others for the challenge and noted they will get back to it at a later time.
Even the popular SEO software companies are throwing challenges at each other, including Mayer Reich, the CEO of RankAbove, who challenged the CEOs of competing SEO Software companies, Conductor, SearchMetrics and Brightedge (where are your videos gentlemen??).
What’s Behind The Success
As a marketer looking at this dramatic success, one can’t help but wonder why. Why, of all things, would this particular meme go viral the way it has? Here’s what I speculate:
- Influencers. It began with a fairly well-connected former Boston College sports figure, Pete Frates, who was already raising money for ALS and was prominent enough to garner news coverage upon his diagnosis.
- Geographic Desirability. Frates and Pete Quinn are both located in the Northeast U.S. in large population centers. People likely feel more inclined to support causes close to home, and there are a lot of people who live along the East Coast of the U.S.
- The Availability Of Media Creation Tools. The potential for the average consumer to create media, especially video, is at an all-time high, given the penetration of smartphones.
- Non-Controversial. Many of the viral phenomena, or would-be viral phenomena, have some element of controversy, perhaps a political or commercial point of view. This campaign, however, didn’t spark offense.
- A Limited Time Component. The meme gives those challenged 24 hours to complete it, so there’s some sense of urgency and there’s no putting it off until later.
- Good, Clean, Summer Fun. I wonder whether this campaign would have gone quite as far, had it not been initiated during the dog days of summer. Putting an ice bucket over one’s head might not have been quite as popular in, say, February. (Though the spread of this to Australia and New Zealand goes against this theory.) Plus, it’s fun to make and watch videos of people getting dunked — why, otherwise, would the dunking booth be such a popular attraction at fairs?
It continues to be refreshing and fun to see this viral challenge for a cause in the news. It’s only a matter of time before everyone in the world does the challenge.
So, in the name of keeping this viral success going, I hereby challenge a few individuals in our industry who I have yet to see participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Matt Cutts, Barry Schwartz, Duane Forester, Jon Henshaw and Rand Fishkin. You guys have 24 hours. Good luck!
Pamela Parker contributed reporting and writing to this column.
Stock image used with permission of Shutterstock.com
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