News & Commentary Straight from Think HQ

Commentary October 15, 2014

Four things marketers can learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge

Chances are you’ve probably heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC), the viral phenomenon that raised over $100 million internationally for ALS/MND research, all by getting people to tip buckets of ice-cold water over their heads.

In Australia, the Ice Bucket Challenge was championed by Laugh to Cure MND, a charity founded by Pat and Angie Cunningham earlier this year. The pair was also behind the first Ice Bucket Challenge World Record attempt, which took place at Etihad Stadium on 22 August.

Think HQ was lucky enough to work with the Laugh to Cure MND team to help promote the World Record attempt – managing official social media accounts throughout the campaign, and securing significant media coverage in major metropolitan news outlets, including The Herald Sun, Melbourne mX, 7News, Channel 10’s The Project, and 3AW radio.

Now that the steady stream of IBC participants has slowed to a trickle, it’s the perfect time to catch up with Pat and Angie, take a look back on the viral phenomenon and share some things that we learnt while working on the campaign.

1. The power of the challenge

Undoubtedly, a significant contributor to the appeal of the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign came from the in-built ‘challenge’ mechanism, playing into participants’ innate competitiveness and schadenfreude. The opportunity to challenge others was also a key motivation to participate in the challenge.

As Pat puts it, “The ‘challenge’ aspect of the campaign was essential. It was difficult for people not to keep the campaign moving; quite often we found people would challenge the highest profile people in their networks.”

The public nature of the challenge – via social media – made it difficult for avoid taking any action at all, meaning the challenge spread quickly through online social networks.

2. An image is worth a thousand words

If we needed confirmation that the future of media lies in video, the Ice Bucket Challenge was it. Key to the success of the campaign was the visual, sharable content created in challenge videos. It’s unlikely the campaign would have taken off if participants were only required to post about taking the challenge, without presenting visual proof.

3. Advocacy is powerful

By offering participants the option to participate in (and more importantly share) the campaign without donating, the Ice Bucket Challenge managed to gain buy-in from a number of people who would not otherwise have joined the cause.

“There are many great charitable causes battling for donations. The campaign has lifted MND into the consciousness of people considering making charitable contributions,” Pat said..

The lesson? Don’t discount the power of the advocate; build different levels of participation into your campaign – from sharing through to investment – to ensure you are making it possible for everyone to be involved.

With so many people getting on board, the capability to research the disease has received a massive boost.

“Only two months ago there were significantly more research projects and initiatives than there were funds available, now the opposite is the case,” Angie says.

4. Don’t forget traditional media

It could be argued that, despite the initial success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the campaign did not reach its full viral ability until after it caught the attention of traditional media, including newspapers and radio.

For us, promoting the Ice Bucket Record in traditional media, as well as online, was crucial – it allowed us to reach an entirely new audience, and to build buzz around the event (hopefully converting into donations to the cause).

Traditional media also gave us the opportunity to highlight key messages and the stories behind the campaign, which might otherwise have been lost online. In particular, being able to tell Angie’s personal MND story allowed us to put a human face on the disease, and to demonstrate why there was such a need for people to get on board and donate.

While it’s common for a client to ask for a “viral campaign,” it’s a difficult feat to engineer – there is no guaranteed formula. But what we learnt from our work on the Ice Bucket Challenge, and our research of other viral marketing campaigns, is that there are certain factors that can significantly increase your chances of “going viral”. Consider some of the above lessons, and combine them with a fun, creative idea, and your next campaign could be well on its way to becoming the next Ice Bucket Challenge!

To support Laugh to Cure MND, post-Ice Bucket Challenge, visit the website and make a donation to MND research.