Why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge will be hard to replicate

The Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge has been spreading like wildfire for the last few weeks on Facebook and Twitter. Even those who are less social savvy can’t avoid the trend, which is all over the mainstream media. According to the website Mashable.com there have been 1.2 million videos (and still counting) uploaded to […]

The Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge has been spreading like wildfire for the last few weeks on Facebook and Twitter. Even those who are less social savvy can’t avoid the trend, which is all over the mainstream media. According to the website Mashable.com there have been 1.2 million videos (and still counting) uploaded to Facebook alone. Many healthcare and nonprofit marketers and social media managers are actively thinking of ways to duplicate the success of the campaign for their brands, but I must warn not too even try to duplicate the campaign for your brand.

For starters many will be surprised to find out that this campaign was not created by a marketing department at ALS or an outsourced company, it was completely organic.

How the ice bucket  challenge caught on and went viral
According to Wikipedia, the origins of the cold-water trend started in the winter of 2013-2014, where participants jumped into a body of cold water and then challenged others to do the same or donate to a charity of their choosing. Over the spring and early summer months the challenge seemed to morph into a dare of pouring a bucket of ice water over your head or donating to a charity of your choice. In July and August the campaign was attached to ALS. Celebrities and influential people including President George W. Bush, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake and many more all were filmed challenging others and dumping cold water on their heads.

The first ALS ice bucket challenge

So how did the ice bucket challenge get attached to the ALS charity?

According to Slate “Chris Kennedy, a golfer on a minor-league circuit in Florida, was the first, on July 14, to focus the freezing fundraiser on ALS research.” Video of the first ALS ice bucket challenge can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpJCWjs6kYA

I connected with Kennedy on Twitter and reached out to him to get the inside information about how this phenomenon started.

“To my knowledge, yes I am the first to do the ALS portion of the Ice Bucket Challenge,” Kennedy said. “I picked ALS as my charity of choice due to my wife’s cousin Anthony Senerchia who suffers from the disease.”

He explains that before he picked ALS, the option was to pick a charity of your choice.

“Each person who is challenged has the option to pick their charity of choice and for some reason a lot people just kept rolling with ALS and that’s when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went crazy,” Kennedy said. “We were all in shock and so proud of what had transpired of the month or so since I did the challenge. What began as a way to put a smile on Anthony’s face and show our love and support for him had turned into a national phenomenon.”

Kennedy is quick to point out that he doesn’t want the media attention and that the important story is about supporting ALS patients.
“The real story here is of the people all over the world who have supported this challenge both personally and financially,” he said. “The amount of awareness made and the donations that have come in are astronomical and will go a long way in hopefully finding a cause and cure for this terrible disease.”

I asked Kennedy why he thought the ALS trend went viral.

“I think the personal connection to the sufferers of the disease is the reason,” he said. “A lot of people rallied behind Anthony and then once Anthony’s network reached Pete Frates in Boston it went viral.”

Frates, who has ALS, is a huge advocate for ALS research and has multiple connections with celebrities and athletes.

Kennedy stressed again that the story should not be focused on him.

“It’s about all of the people who have done this challenge and donated to the cause,” he said. “I am a very small part of this and just feel lucky to have had a part in raising so much awareness for this terrible disease.”

The perfect elements for massive success

There are a few reasons this campaign reached such epic success. Smartphone usage is at an all time high, and most people have access to recording video on their cell phones. Just five years ago this campaign would not have been as successful. The time of year was also crucial because people are more likely to dump ice water on their head in the heart of the summer. The simplicity of the challenge also played a huge factor, everyone has access to a bucket, water and ice.

There is also an exclusive factor going on where people are nominating other people and calling them out by tagging the people on Facebook. Maybe the most important aspect of the campaign is that it is fun to see how your friends are going to react to freezing cold water dumped on them. Participants also put their unique spin and style on each challenge in how they perform it, which only spreads the message further.

As of August 23, the ALS Association claims it has received $62.5 million in donations compared to $2.4 million during the same time period last year and the donations have come from existing donors and 1.2 million new donors.

>Critics of the social campaign believe that with all of the celebrity involvement and social reach the amount of funds raised should have been significantly higher. It is hard to argue with that, but even harder to measure the long-term value of global awareness and future donations that the association will benefit from.

Why it can’t be duplicated

Nonprofits spend a lot of money on fundraising and overhead, trying to create campaigns that go viral and are shared. It will be tempting for many struggling healthcare charities to start their own ice bucket challenge, but it won’t work. They will be seen as the second charity to do it and it won’t get any attention. Some people have already complained that they are tired of seeing ice bucket challenges in their social feeds. Social media happens that fast and you can’t capture lightening in a bottle. However, charities should learn from the organic success and challenge their loyal supporters to create their own unique, new and fresh campaigns to help them grow.

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