Brand Lessons From The Ice Bucket Challenge

From UsWeekly to Forbes, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is being talked about everywhere.

Not to mention it is probably taking over your Facebook news feed.

Whether it is inspiring you, annoying you, or just making you cold, the ALS ice bucket challenge is getting people involved, engaged, and getting them to spread its message.

This is something not only most brands want ... it is something most brands fail to do.

Slow + Steady Wins The Race

While the ice bucket challenge seems to be an overnight success, it actually started last winter. People were challenged to dump a bucket of ice water over their head in 24 hours or make a donation to their nominator’s favorite charity.

It wasn’t until July that it focused on ALS when golfer Chris Kennedy challenged 3 people to dump ice water over their heads or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.

Nine months after it started, the ice bucket challenge found instant internet fame.

The Power Of Storytelling: ALS The Underdog

With other charities trying to raise awareness with the same challenge, it begs the question - why did it catch on for ALS?

A disease that affects 2 in 100,000 people and garners very little attention from pharmaceutical companies - it wasn’t the front runner by any means.

But ALS is a powerful disease. It was the power of connection, community, and storytelling that made this cause so impactful. ALS is a neurodegenerative disorder that kills off motor neurons leaving it’s victims in a glass coffin without voluntary movement.

With no treatment or cure, people who have had or known someone with ALS have powerful niche communities and moving stories. It is the power of these stories that has resulted in 637,527 new donors to the ALS Association.

The Power of People: a friend of a friend, of a friend

Remember that each person that comes into contact with your brand is a catalyst (for better or worse).

Bad experiences with your clients/potential clients is not the worst thing that can happen. With a lot of hard work, those can often be remedied.

The worst thing that can happen is a neutral response. They don’t love you. They don’t hate you. They will most likely replace you with the most convenient or cheapest option.

But one thing is for sure, they certainly aren’t talking about you. To harness the power of your clients networks, you need to get them talking.

Chris Kennedy was the catalyst for donating to the ALS foundation. Within Chris Kennedy’s network was his cousin whose husband was affected by ALS. According to The Wall Street Journal it was the powerful social network that unfolded that really gave the cause momentum.

[quote]Ms. Senerchia's network on Facebook connected with Pat Quinn, a 31-year-old in Yonkers, N.Y., who was diagnosed with ALS in March 2013. Soon Mr. Quinn’s whole network was posting challenges. Mr. Quinn's Facebook network overlapped with Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player who was diagnosed with the disease two years earlier. In Boston the challenge went viral as professional baseball players who knew Pete from college lined up to do the challenge, followed by politicians, celebrities and business leaders.[/quote]

Start thinking about what you are (or are not doing) to get your community involved, engaged, and invested in your cause.

Common Marketing Myths

Making something “ go viral” is equal parts time, quality content, and good luck. “Only 6% of Upworthy posts have reached 100,000 views, and only 0.42% have surpassed 1 million, according to the viral content experts at Upworthy.”

A few common marketing mindset mistakes to avoid:

  • If you have a hashtag, you have a campaign

  • If you post it so will others

  • It will happen fast

  • People will get involved if you ask them once

Before you decide to never launch another marketing campaign again, here are a few things your brand can learn from the ALS ice bucket challenge.

5 Brand Lessons From The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

1. The More Simple, The Better

If you want people to get involved, make it easy. Despite their hashtags and Facebook Profile Pictures, the ALS Foundation did not include any of those in their description on how to participate.

They kept it simple: you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate $100 to the ALS foundation.

Most people have an ice bucket, a smart-phone, and a social media account. Simple as that.

2. Make It Personal

The reason this challenged spread so quickly is that it hit close to home for a lot of people. The reason it continued to spread is because people utilized their personal relationships to grow momentum for the cause.

You don’t have to know someone with ALS to participate, you just have to be nominated by someone close to you. By creating an inclusive and exclusive relationship with the disease/cause, people near and far were compelled to join in.

Plus once completed, you got to nominate your friends and family!

3. Start Small and Be Specific

The ALS Foundation didn’t set out to create a viral, national campaign. No one had a fundraising goal in mind. People simply wanted to help their friend raise awareness for his disease. The rest unfolded naturally.

Starting small and really gaining ground within a community, a demographic, or a niche market is key to leveraging the power of social networking.

If a small market isn’t invested in your product, why would they become brand advocates?

But you don’t want your new found brand advocates running all over the internet with different messages.

Give them the tools (photos, taglines, hastags, or check ins) they need to spread your message in a consistent way.

4. Create a Sense of Urgency

Creating a sense of urgency is key to keeping the momentum going and keeping people accountable.

Once challenged you have 24 hours. Which means you can’t put it off. And you were called out publicly by a friend so you are more likely to do it.

Where many brands go wrong is by creating a false sense of urgency. Make sure your request is reasonable and an as authentic to your cause as possible.

5. Accept That Sometimes, Bad Press Can Be Good Press

All sides have spoken about a range of issues, but, at the end of the day, people are talking about ALS.

Not only does this challenge allow people to tell their own stories, the ALS foundation isn’t trying to control the backlash.

If you are trying to make a splash, you need to be prepared for some backlash.

** Some additional best practices from the ALS Foundation

  • They give you the images to spread awareness for Twitter and Facebook

  • They have simple but descriptive hashtags

  • They’re creating their own press with regular press releases

  • They offer regular and consistent updates to everyone on the progress of their project to keep you engaged.

The Good, The Bad, and The Effective

Some people love this challenge:

  • Families affected by ALS are posting videos and blogs praising the additional awareness and support

  • People are supporting the cause by posting videos

  • Celebrities are spreading the news making the disease more mainstream

  • ALS donations are 16x higher than last year as of August 20th 2014

Some people hate this challenge:

  • It’s cluttering up people’s news feeds

  • It causes issues with the current water crisis

  • The focus has become about dumping water on your head and self promotion instead of ALS or donating to the cause

  • People are concerned about where the money is going

But either way people are talking about it ... and donating. In 3 weeks $31.5 million has been raised compared to $1.9 million the year before.

An Invitation To Get Involved

The water crisis is real and we need to be mindful about how our choices affect the world we live in. But that doesn’t mean not getting involved.

It also doesn’t mean just writing a check. The whole point of the ice bucket challenge is about creating a video that engages and spreads the word to your community.

Regardless of whether you are dumping $10,000 over your head like Charlie Sheen or just getting creative about how we protect and conserve our water, I hope you find a way to support the ALS foundation or another cause that you believe in.

More than how you feel about this particular challenge, there is a lot to learn about best practices for your marketing - especially if you want to include a community spread social campaign.

Most likely we will see a plethora of #icebucketchallenge copy cats. But hopefully you can apply the ALS Foundation’s best practices to create your own viral sensation.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me in supporting ALS in a water conscious way.