Who among us has not heard of the ALS #IceBucketChallenge? In August alone, the challenge raised $100 million in donations. It captured the collective imagination of social media users across the world. According to Facebook, Ice Bucket Challenge videos were viewed a whopping 10 billion times and reached over 400 million people.
This campaign, in particular, piqued the interests of the neighbors next door to A-List celebrities, from schooled-aged children to politicians. But, why did this challenge, unlike many others, gain unprecedented popularity given that it started out as a grassroots campaign originating with a 29-year old ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) survivor Peter Frates from Boston in late July? Why are we, as a society, so fascinated with the #IceBucketChallenge?
When we think about what makes a successful viral campaign, there are several "must haves" in order for the campaign to be a success. When we consider the #IceBucketChallenge, there are seven possible reasons why we are so fascinated:
Reason #1: As simple as it can get
The premise was simple and straight-forward, just like how social media users like it.
Step 1: Someone challenges you to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Step 2: You dump a bucket of water on your head or donate to a charity funding ALS research.
Step 3: Challenge others. And the cycle continues on. The response to the challenge is not complicated, all that you're asking is that your friends, colleagues or whoever who you're challenging, simply takes part. The rules of the challenge are clear-cut and easy for anyone to understand. As Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself."
Reason #2: Altruistic
Participation is at the heart of the Ice Bucket Challenge. People were asked to put themselves in a vulnerable position: throwing ice cold water over yourself isn't exactly enjoyable. Some shivered, some sputtered, some looked shocked after realizing how cold ice water actually feels. But that was the whole point; it was about the willingness to endure a little chill and perhaps even a little humiliation to serve an important cause. Everyone who took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge essentially performed a selfless act before millions of online viewers. Herein lies a viral marketing lesson: evoking empathy works, and when you only have to dump a bucket of ice water on your head to spread awareness about a progressive neurodegenerative disease, you can bet many will be up for the task.
Reason #3: Celebrity attention galore
Celebrities, especially those with an active social media presence, tend to keep up with the hottest trends to, well, keep their fans and followers interested in them. It didn't take long for PR agents to understand the potential of the Ice Bucket Challenge in keeping their clients in the spotlight. So of course Kim Kardashian did it, as did Bieber, Gomez, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. But who would have thought Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg would post their own ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos? When the media-shy who's who are ready to lower their guard and appear - even for a second or two -- vulnerable to the ice cold water, it piques your curiosity. The campaign really benefited from the wholehearted participation of superstars in their respective fields.
Reason #4: A shining example of social proofing
Social proofing is a concept that people will conform to and mimic the actions of others with the assumption that those actions reflect correct behavior. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had a social proofing element, influencing people to do the challenge because everyone doing it was appreciated for contributing to a noble cause, though this was not explicitly stated. The sphere of positive influence created by the participation of such celebrities as Oprah, Robert Downey Jr., Conan O'Brien, Leonardo DiCaprio, Taylor Swift and Silicon Valley stalwarts attracted the public like perhaps no other charity campaign in recent times.
Reason #5: Educational opportunity
Gen Y has embraced technology to support good causes. To those who were only interested in the entertainment and self-serving aspects of social media, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge couldn't have come at a better time. There are reports that teachers have used the challenge to educate kids on the importance of fund-raising for good causes. While social media is an excellent platform for philanthropy and being leveraged by charitable organizations for awareness and fund-raising efforts, the number of such fun, simple and extremely popular campaigns as the Ice Bucket Challenge are yet to be seen. The first one makes a big splash, as #IceBucketChallenge did.
Reason #6: Newsjacking or excellent timing?
Newsjacking is a marketing strategy where brands piggyback off the most happening new stories to draw attention to their own content. While the Ice Bucket Challenge did not make a concerted effort at newsjacking, it benefited from its launch timing. After a cycle of bad news including the Malaysian airline crash, Israel-Palestine tensions, ISIS violence and Ferguson shooting, people were instantly drawn to a positive, re-energizing and democratic campaign they could all participate in.
Reason #7: You don't have to make a donation
When you are asked to choose between paying out of your pocket or embarking on a new challenge, which one would you rather do? The Ice Bucket Challenge was a chance at the opportunity to do something different, contribute to a great cause, and possibly the opportunity to go viral.
This is why we are so fascinated with the ALS #IceBucketChallenge.