Viral Brilliance

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, viral phenomenon, is teaching us a lot about a lot of things — ALS for one, human nature, masterful fundraising and some things us marketers should pay attention to. It is treasure trove for Cause Marketers and there are some universal truths (reminders) in it for the rest of us.

The request on social media from one person to several  friends to donate to the cause of ALS, while demonstrating their support for the cause/cure by sharing a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice over their heads is the basic premise. Then, the friends who are challenged are supposed to donate, challenge a few more people and post their video proof of their ice bath. And so on and so on.

It is the dream child of every viral campaign to have this much uptick and involvement, so quickly. (for the record, it is not a new concept.  I personally have participated in a very similar tactic (the dunking booth) to raise money for a cause. My friends joyfully lined up, made their donations and then pelted the target as hard they could to send me into the tank of nasty water.

But to my observance, The ALS Ice Bucket challenge is a first of it’s kind in the viral world, engaging so many participants and dollars. Besides the fact that these videos seem to claim every other post on Facebook, the ‘event’ has raised over $62M since July 29, the average gift being only $46.25, for a horrible disease that until now was far less known and funded.

I love the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because it is:

  • Organic and authentic. This does not have the stamp of a corporate or “official cause” on it. ALS is not asking you to dump ice water over your head and donate; your friends are.
  • Fun. The gimmick of pouring ice over one’s head is universally fun, a little outlandish and engaging.  Responses are cross-generational — young, old and in between are into it, challenging each other and helping each other with the videos.
  • Global – the money raised is going for global research and the donations and videos are coming in from all over our small world.
  • Appropriate use of humor and silliness. It has those components in the act itself but still delivers a very sober plea to donate to an important (and decidedly not humorous) cause.
  • Incredibly democratic. The request is one that can be answered by anyone with a cell phone (tripod or friend) and access to frozen water and a bucket. And it is being responded to from everyone from President George W. Bush to Justin Bieber.
  • 15 seconds of fame. It plays to most (non-famous) people’s desire for fame and acknowledgement of being a good person without having to self-promote. The aspect of slight humiliation is endearing and creates camaraderie.
  • Quick. It only takes a few minutes out of our busy lives.
  • Masterful Fund-raising.  The requests are on social media with a huge audience seeing who is being challenged and who responds. So there is peer pressure to participate vs a plea via a newsletter, telethon or dinner.

I think the watch-out is the “me too” factor that is bound to happen, or has already started? Too close a copycat will not be well-received.

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Sharon Love

Sharon Love is CEO of retail marketing agency, TPN. To Sharon, "retail is a verb". It's not a place, but a state of mind where people can shift into a shopping mindset anywhere, anytime. As consumers become better-informed, smarter shoppers, Sharon challenges herself and the agency to evolve with them. Beyond her business savvy, she is an avid shopper, consumer, reader, traveler and wanna-be chef.

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