6 Marketing Takeaways From the Ice Bucket Frenzy

After more than a month of social media madness, it’s safe to say that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has simmered down to a point at which we can be a bit retrospective.

This marvel of viral marketing commandeered the Internet in the best way possible, eventually raising more than $113 million for the ALS Association, which funds research and clinical management projects to help cure Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Just as important, it raised awareness of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and provided social support for those who live with ALS. It also proved that pretty much everyone was willing to pour a bucket of ice water over his or her head — on video — for a good cause. (Yes, even Chempetitive Group accepted the challenge.)

The beauty of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it took on an unwieldy life of its own, without anyone orchestrating its broad and fast spread throughout America and beyond. The people who started it had no idea that it would become what it did.

Nonetheless, there are some good lessons we can learn as marketers as we seek to develop future social media campaigns.

  1. It’s hard say no to a public challenge. The Ice Bucket Challenge went viral fast, because people took a real interest in challenging each other to participate. It became friendly competition among family members, friends and even with associates in the workplace. The concept was simple; take the challenge or donate to the ALS Association. Many people ended up doing both.

  2. Anyone can do video. Video is no longer a barrier in the world of social sharing. The Ice Bucket challenge showed just how quickly people could set up a video shoot, edit the footage and get it online for their networks to see. Not only were people technologically equipped (who doesn’t have a smartphone?), but many were also quite enthusiastic to say a few words on camera and show off their video producing skills.

  3. Celebrity power can do wonders for a social campaign. Facebook and Instagram were filled with videos of celebrities accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge. From a marketing perspective, these were free public endorsements. Think of all the “likes” celebrities have on their Facebook pages. Take, for example, Oprah Winfrey. She accepted the challenge and shared the video on her page that has more than 10 million likes. Over 260,000 people liked her video and more than 50,000 shared it. Maybe your next campaign doesn’t need Oprah, but could there be someone your audience sees as a “celebrity” who can participate?

  4. Heartfelt testimonials connect with audiences. As the Ice Bucket Challenge began trending on Facebook, those with ALS sparked conversation about the significance of the campaign. As an example, photographer and ALS patient Anthony Carbajal caught the nation’s attention when he posted a video to YouTube sharing his story. “ALS runs in my family,” he said. “If I simply dump ice on my head, I don’t think you’ll get the point.” More than 16 million people saw his message and he was invited onto several talk shows, where his message spread further.

  5. Media loves a good human-interest story. All types of news outlets covered the Ice Bucket Challenge. Today Show co-host Matt Lauer took The Ice Bucket Challenge during the live morning broadcast. This gave the ALS Association free coverage without having to pay for advertising. Journalists always look for newsworthy stories, those with human interest and deeper meaning. Reporting on the Ice Bucket Challenge certainly encompassed these concepts. That said, the campaign no doubt earned its newsworthiness.

  6. Organizations can make the most of unexpected coverage. It is essential for an organization to respond to media coverage or public engagement, especially when the coverage wasn’t planned or expected. The ALS Association did an impressive job of commenting on the campaign in a very timely manner, becoming part of the conversation. The association posted more than 20 press releases to its national website, keeping the public updated and acknowledging the outpouring of support and donations. It also acted as a watchdog, alerting the public to fake news articles and donation websites.

While it may be impossible to replicate an Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s easy to be inspired by it and let its lessons shape future social media marketing campaigns.