Sunday, August 17, 2014

Virality Lessons: Ice Bucket Challenge

Breaking down the #icebucketchallenge engagement drivers 

You've probably seen loads ofcelebrity Ice Bucket Challenge videos. I first saw my favorite late night host Jimmy Fallon doing it, after being challenged by his bestie Justin Timberlake. There are throngs of actors, musicians, athletes, even people from the tech sector accepting the challenge with their own content posts.

It started as a way to promote pet charity projects (Matt Lauer was one of the first to do it on the Today Show), but ended up attached to ALS awareness and fundraising after golfer Chris Kennedy challenged a cousin whose husband has ALS.

The trend caught on and "more than 15 million people have joined in on the conversation about the ice bucket challenge on Facebook, including posting, commenting or Liking a challenge post" (Mashable).

Besides the gimmick and content spread, the challenge has also led to conversion. "As of Thursday, the ALS Association, a national advocacy, care and research association with 38 chapters, had raised $7.6 million in donations in two weeks. That compares with $1.4 million raised during the same two-week period last year. The donations came from existing donors and 145,918 new donors" (WSJ)

#icebuckethcallenge engagement drivers

In the past couple of years we've seen the spread of user-generated virals like "Call Me Maybe" and last year's "Harlem Shake" videos. The #icebucketchallenge seems to have picked up faster and has proven to be effective at both awareness and conversion.

Different organizations have tried to use social to spread awareness for different causes, such as the cryptic messages for the "I like it on..." breast cancer awareness meme a few years ago or drives that ask users to change their status images to show support. I don't think we've seen a massive success of either type of campaign locally so this is an interesting case to learn from in terms of engagement drivers.

How the challenge works: You get challenged. If you accept, you fill a bucket with ice-cold water (may or may not have actual cubes, or may be mostly ice cubes ala Martha Stewart) and pour the water on yourself (it can also get poured on you by someone else as was done for the awesome Chris Pratt or by your own custom bucket-pouring contraption ala Bill Gates). You are then allowed to nominate another person to do it who must comply within 24 hours. If they refuse they must donate cash to support ALS.

This meme has several spreadability factors working for it
  • It's simple to execute
  • The result is visually compelling to watch and share, especially when done by celebrities willing to look stupid online (except for you, Justin Bieber)
  • Most of all the mechanic of challenging someone else, of tagging them, fuels the spread. The call-to-action is one-on-one and when your name is called to do something, you are more compelled to answer and participate
Most interesting is that it hits two major marketing objectives at the same time, awareness and sales or conversion.

Social for good, highly participative, inherently viral, pretty brilliant.


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