Think Like An Ice Bucket-er, Not A Marketer: What Have We Learnt?

Andrew Birkitt

Lead Technical Engineer
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Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a simple concept- somebody has a container (ranging from an Bucket to a skip and everything in between) of water, full of ice cubes, dumped over their head. They then nominate friends, family and colleagues to do the same challenge: within the next 24 hours.
The intended purpose of The Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC), often referred to as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is intended to raise funds for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. The popularity has even spurned charitable donations for many other charities since the phenomena begun.
To put the Ice Bucket Challenge into context: 28 million people have uploaded, commented on, or liked ice bucket-related posts. From 29 July to 28 August this year ALS received $98.2m – compared with $2.7m donated during the same period last year.
The Ice Bucket’s challenge has been nothing short of a social phenomenon, but why? Many Charities have in the past been notoriously bad at raising outside investment to fund research. How has ALS got it so right and broke the mould for the way we may donate in the future?
1. Social Media
The Ice Bucket Challenge simply could not have taken off or sustained such momentum without Social Media. Before social, there would have been no means to publish our own attempt at the challenge or watch our fellow Ice Bucketeers. From both a business and individual perspective, the challenge highlights the fact we are all publishers of content and have the opportunity to tell our own story.
Social Media is often lambasted for it’s perceived negative effects on society at large, however, the Ice Bucket challenge has proved that social networks can be a force for good.
2. Social Proof
In Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion he brought to our attention 6 key principles to influence people. A key principle in the book is that of Social Proof.
Social Proof relies on people’s sense of “safety in numbers.” The human need to be a part of something and not miss out.
For example, we’re more likely to work late if others in our team are doing the same or eat in a restaurant if it’s busy: basically following other people’s behaviour. We assume that if lots of other people are doing something, then it must be OK. The Ice bucket challenge is one of the best uses of Social Proof.
Social Proof can be the difference between a great marketing campaign creating a genuine buzz and finding the holy grail of social virality, or being good but never really taking off. This principle has never been so relevant since the Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram forced their way into our lives.
On a side note, as our whole lives can now be publicised online it is almost easier to take part in the challenge than to not take part. Even if we don’t always want to take part!
3. Fun
Watching your brother, best friend or mother get drenched in ice cold water is pretty fun and makes for a great conversation.
It isn’t so much the act of donating, instead our own take on and the way we take on the challenge that has us reaching for the bucket. The funnier/alternative/mishap ice bucket challenges have clocked up some serious social traction and views.
4. Urgency
The push to perform your IBC challenge within the next 24 hours is not by accident. The reason so many of our friends and family have taken part in the action is due to this time limit and push for action. There is inevitable a time limit to any such activity. This was a great way to involve as many people as possible before it became saturated everywhere we turned. This is one of the key driving forces for the stunt getting off the ground which should be given real consideration when building marketing plans, content strategies and activities.
What have we learnt?
It is difficult to say what will be the next “Ice Bucket Challenge” and what will be the next innovative marketing campaign to create such a social buzz. We can however predict that the stunt will change the way we donate in the future. What we can say is that Social Inclusion has played a big part in The Ice Bucket Challenge’s success. Donating became both fun and gave the charities in question coverage. This is a dynamic mix that took everyone by storm, and literally hit us like a bucket of ice cold water to the head.
Once a marketing campaign has reached saturation and become all too common, similarly to how the song you loved doesn’t sound the same after you have played it on repeat a 100 times, the need for a unique take on events can be refreshing. One of the key things we have learnt from the last few months of the unavoidable Ice Bucket challenge as it begins to lose a little momentum is the need to stand out to get traction when everything becomes the same.
P.S Here is one of our favourites so far…


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