[By Rauglothgor (own work), via Wikimedia Commons]

[By Rauglothgor (own work), via Wikimedia Commons]

Cold Cash

3 marketing lessons we can learn from the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

Back Web Only Sep 10, 2014 By Melissa Sorcic

During a summer filled with sobering headlines, the ALS #IceBucketChallenge provided some of the coldest warm fuzzies imaginable. For those of those of you who haven’t heard of it (welcome back from the desert, or wherever you must have been), the challenge consists of pouring a bucket of ice water over your head to raise awareness and donations for the ALS Association. Because of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALSA reports that they’ve received over $100 million dollars in donations, ranging from less than a dollar to as much as $200,000.

If you’re part of nonprofit that relies on charitable giving watching these videos, you’ve probably started to pensively rub your chin, wondering if and how you could get something like this to work for you. Chances are, you can’t. At least not on the same scale.

I say this because not even the ALSA orchestrated their own success with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Far from it: The challenge began as early as mid-2013 with people being given the choice donate $100 to a charity of their choosing or bear down for the bucket of ice. It wasn’t until July when former Boston College baseball star and ALS-sufferer Peter Frates got involved on Twitter and popularized it as an ALS-specific movement.

It was in part the sort of slow-simmering, right-place-at-the-right-time rise of the challenge that gave it the ground-up, public-driven appeal that drew so many participants and donors. It would be pretty hard to concoct something like that at a meeting and expect similar results.

That said, there are certainly some big takeaways in terms of how nonprofits can make strides in today’s hyper-social, share-happy world. Here are some of the ways in which the Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us about how the current social media landscape can work to raise awareness and funds:

1. Fun + Short + Resonant: There seems to be a real winning strategy in the idea that if something has entertainment value, is easy to to digest and involves a larger purpose that people can see value in, it’s got a good chance of making some waves. The “fun and short” model alone has seen plenty of viral action with previous phenomenons like the Cinnamon Challenge, Harlem Shake, and (dare I say it and summon its wrath?) planking. Adding a social message might just be the next big Next Big Thing.

2. Friends Inviting Friends to Participate: Plenty of businesses and organizations have gotten mileage out of asking fans and followers to engage in a way that lets them have a little fun, from countless charity 5K runs to campaigns like “How Do You Eat Your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup?” What’s unique about the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it has kept the ball rolling by getting people to nominate others to get involved — and publicly, no less. One can imagine that participation never would have neared its peak levels if people were in charge of taking the challenge upon themselves.

3. Brace for the Haters: This one is more of a cautionary note that can be gleaned from this craze. Prepare for criticism, some of which will be entirely unfounded, some with significantly more weight, and all of which you’re going to be asked to answer for. There’s really no cause “good” enough that it can get through a surge in popularity without being criticized from all angles, some of which are both valid and entirely out of your hands. Knowing what to roll with and what to respond to might not be easy, but it’s a minefield you might consider yourself lucky to be in if it means the type of successful fundraising the ALSA has seen in recent weeks.


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