Storytelling and Simplicity Ignite for Global Big Bang
Behind the Scenes with the IAB MIXX Best-in-Show Winner: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
It’s tempting to think of the extraordinary success of “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” as pure luck—but that would be a mistake. A close look at what brought this campaign to life reveals a combination of marketing genius and brilliant strategic thinking.
Seizing an Opportunity
Despite what you may think, people were pouring ice water over their heads in online videos before the “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” began—but it hadn’t yet reached meme status. The act had no name, no hashtag, no infrastructure. This was the rare and fleeting opportunity that Pat Quinn, co-creator of “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” remembers seizing with co-creator Pete Frates. The pair gave the activity a name, a hashtag, and a deeper reason for sharing—to support ALS, a disease with which both men had been diagnosed. Next, the two men posted the challenge to their personal social networks, told their friends what to do, and let go. That’s how the real zeitgeist got started.
Winning Hearts and Minds
“We made it easy to be part of something bigger—and we put faces and names to the movement by giving people the opportunity to put themselves out there,” Quinn says.
The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” had all of the basic elements of work intended to go viral, yet was then super-powered by the activity’s existing momentum, its authentic creation story, and the unusual chance for people to make a difference easily.
Quickly the campaign spread from the personal accounts of two activists to countries around the world. Celebrities, politicians, pop stars, actors, athletes, chief executives, and hundreds of thousands of friends and fans were dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness for a disease that hadn’t had a champion since Lou Gehrig in 1939.
Everyone who took the challenge made the experience their own, tapping into the true potential of interactive media. The stories captured were hilarious, awkward, surprising, always off-the-cuff and always heartfelt. Quinn and Frates took control of the meme to launch the campaign, but then they also took the ultimate risk: they let go, handing the reins to the people.
To date, “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” has raised a staggering $220 million for The ALS Association. It is likely the most successful non-profit marketing effort of all time. The real payoff may not be the donations, however. “The visibility that this disease is getting as a result of the Challenge is truly invaluable,” says Barbara Newhouse, CEO of the association.