Another Marketing Article about the Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is every marketer’s wet dream. Viral. Social. Low cost. Massive awareness. It’s no surprise then that the challenge has been copied by brands and written about ad nauseam by “social media ninjas” and “PR pros”.

Let’s establish something first. The Ice Bucket challenge was hugely successful. And marketers should learn from the phenomenon.

  1. It leveraged social pressure in the form of nominations to spread the activity.
  2. It leveraged social media by demanding that the nomination process and challenge itself be filmed, uploaded online and actively tagged.
  3. It (mostly) got around the “slacktivism” problem by encouraging participants to actually donate rather than just go through with the challenge.
  4. The activity itself lent itself to embarrassing failures which only increased awareness.
  5. The activity was not difficult (low barrier to entry, unless you lived in a place suffering from droughts) and instantly entertaining.

In the coming months, I suspect we’ll see marketers trying to copy the campaign phenomenon for their own ends, but most of these will fail. Why?

6.  The Ice Bucket Challenge was in service of a good cause.

Here’s a list of things that will never catch on:

  • Instagram a picture of your lunch to fight crappy lunches (brought to you by Lunchables)
  • Vine your buddy who needs a makeover (brought to you by Old Navy)
  • Tweet your best pick-up line to help fight geekiness worldwide (brought to you by Axe)

Ultimately, any brand that tries to leverage a “challenge your friend to challenge their friends” campaign concept will be a second-mover (or third, or fourth…). It won’t be successful because things like body odor, wrinkles and hunger for snacks simply don’t command social authority in the way a debilitating disease does.

The burden on agencies and marketers is this: build campaigns that leverage social pressure, but do so in a way that offers value to your customers. Give them something. Because there’s no reason for them to give you something for free.

A final thought: having your CEO dump water on his head does not suddenly make your brand relevant nor does it make your company socially responsible.


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