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What Marketers Should Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge



Now that media interest in the ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’ had cooled off, what have we learnt?

1)  A lot of people know a lot more about ALS then they did 2 months ago (even if it’s just the name),

2)  The charity has raised a lot of money ($98.2m between 29th July and 28th August this year - compared with $2.7m donated during the same period last year),

3)  It’s really hard to predict what is going to capture the public imagination…


The ice bucket challenge did capture the public imagination; the stats are the stuff marketers’ dreams are made of:

·  More than 2.4 million unique videos of the ice bucket challenge have been uploaded to Facebook

·  More than 28 million people have posted, commented on or liked those videos

·  ALS Twitter followers have increased from 8,975 in early July to 21,100

·  Average daily visits to the ALS association website were about 17,500 before the ice bucket challenge, compared with the peak of 4.5 million visits on 20 August (of which 83% were new to the site).

But why?

The ice bucket challenge’s strange alchemy of celebrity endorsement + simple idea + emotional response = hugely contagious viral content.

But what can small businesses learn from its success?

Perhaps it gives us an opportunity to reconsider both our marketing campaigns and our internal communications. 

A simple call to action which results in a win-win. 

The beauty of the call to action is that it presents a choice of outcomes to participants – both of which benefit the charity; either raise further awareness, or donate some money (or both!).  The charity gets more awareness and more donations.  The participants are rewarded by having a degree of their esteem, belonging and self-actualisation needs met.

Elicit an emotional response 

We know that content that arouses a strong emotion in people will be more widely shared.  The Ice Bucket Challenge elicits a number of emotional responses in one shot – it runs the whole gamut of surprise, awe, joy (laughter), warm fuzzies (donating to charity).  And research suggests that content that makes people feel good is more sharable than that which makes them feel bad.

Explicit requests to share content

The viral nature of the Ice Bucket Challenge was built into its heart right from the very start; an integral part of it is challenging the people in your immediate circle and then watching to see who they go on to challenge. Plus, there is an immediate and highly emotional reward for sharing (you get to watch your friends do it too!).

How should these three ideas shape your communications?

These three ideas aren’t new for social media marketers, and it isn’t possible for us all to emulate the stratospheric success of the ice bucket challenge, but perhaps we should all be considering these three simple actions a bit more closely in our communications and our campaigns.

1.  Be clear about your communication objectives.  Build a reward for both you and your audience into every campaign message.

2.  Create an emotional appeal.

3.  Make sure you include an explicit call to action plus an explicit request to share the message.

How should these three ideas shape your operations?

Not only that, but these ideas don’t have to be confined to social media.  Perhaps they also give us an interesting model for wider customer – and employee – engagement and productivity.

How many of us really think about reciprocal reward in the context of our HR policy?  Or an emotional appeal in our internal communications?  Can business strategy be communicated in this engaging way which marries gamification and participation with business goals?

Something to consider…

Esther Rutter is a freelance Copywriter who regularly contributes to Crystal Ball's small business blog with articles focussed around helping small businesses to boost productivity, reduce costs, improve customer service and improve health and safety.


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