6 Marketing Lessons from the #IceBucketChallenge

Your friends and brands are dumping ice on their heads still, from an accidental viral sensation. And the ALS Assocation has received $70 million+ in donations from in August, compared to $2.5 million during the same period last year. What lessons can brands take away from this social media sensation?

1. Don’t be afraid to get a little weird. People are very quick to say no—that won’t work, and to list reasons why. Let’s be honest—if your marketing team came to you in June and said, “Let’s tell people to dump ice water on their heads for a cause,” you would have replied, “Very funny. What are your real ideas?” But maybe it’s worth it to take ideas—even the strange ones—and consider what would work about them rather than what wouldn’t. Every idea should be allowed to simmer before it is crossed off entirely. Why? The public like to share strange stuff sometimes—consider planking, Tebowing, the Harlem Shake. People feel like they are a part of something when they participate in the strange, and the media loves to talk about it.

2. Play to people’s egos. There is a little bit of “look at me” in almost all social media. Posts say, “Check out the fun things I’m doing, the places I’m going, the people I’m with.” I am not passing judgment, as I am a fan of likes and comments on the things I post as well. The #IceBucketChallenge gave everyone a minute or so in front of a camera to talk and do something silly. Participants enjoyed the stage.

3. Watch what’s trending—and jump aboard if it makes sense. The Ice Bucket Challenge did not start in an ALS office. In mid-July, Today Show anchors participated and were choosing their charity at the time. CBS reported that it was attached to ALS through Pro golfer Chris Kennedy, who challenged a cousin whose husband has ALS. ESPN shared an “SC Featured” video that reports it started with Pete Frates, a Boston College baseball player. Either way, it went viral and then was attached to ALSA. So watch what’s happening, keep your pulse on trends, and if anything makes sense, give it a brand spin. And you don’t have to try to take over a trend. Some brands actually had success with this tactic after this was an ALS cause, making their own ice bucket videos and donating more for likes and shares of their video.

4. Keep it simple. This cause irked me at first because it was too easy. Why are people participating? It’s not a big deal to dump ice on your head. Can’t it be mud? Can’t it be done in the bleak midwinter? But as the campaign became more and more successful, I had to admit I was wrong. My ideas would never have gone anywhere. Anyone, anywhere can get access to ice, water, and a bucket, and then dump it on their heads. It was so easy that there was no reason to put it off ’til later.

5. Use video or photos. Everyone has a smart phone. Even my 90 year old grandma can figure out how to take a video without help. And photos and videos are totally sharable and noticable. Nothing catches on without a photo or video element anymore.

6. Include a “Pass it on” call to action.  Think of a pyramid scheme, or the “how quickly STDs spread” chart from your high school sex education class. Every row of people below the top person grows and grows. Pyramid schemes (supposedly) and STDs (definitely) are viral. Your marketing campaign could be too if everyone who participates gets 3 more people to participate.

So, congratulations to the ALS Association for an amazing sensation. And to the rest of you brands, as the below Ice Bucket Challenge Participant says (wait, is that our web art director Wally Ottenhoff?), “Let’s Do It!!!!!!!!!!”

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