The origin of the Ice Bucket Challenge as a means to raise money for charity is not entirely clear. But I think it’s fair to say that the campaign’s meteoric success, generated once social media took its course ($110 million in donations and counting), was completely unpredictable. So, how and why did the Challenge catch on so fast?
Less than a year ago, I was asked to complete a research project for my multivariate stats course in grad school. As long as we incorporated one of the analysis approaches we learned in class, the assignment was largely open-ended. At the time, my sister had recently published her medical research on ALS, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease more widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I had never heard of ALS before, but with the permission to use my sister’s data, I took this as an opportunity to focus my paper on my attempt to recreate her research results using an alternative statistical analysis technique. I didn’t know anything about the condition, but as a statistician, it didn’t matter all too much in completing my project. As I stood in front of my classmates to present my findings, it wasn’t surprising to me that few of them had been exposed to ALS before.
And today there are probably few (at least within the US) who do not know about ALS.
In my opinion, the ALS Association has serendipitously benefited from a natural human desire to seek acknowledgment and admiration from others through the Ice Bucket Challenge. They have encountered the intersection between philanthropic efforts and the use of social media as a means for self-promotion. The challenge has provided a platform for social media users to feed their need for acknowledgment among their peers while doing good at the same time. Excluding the impact of celebrity involvement, would the efforts behind the challenge’s attempt to raise both awareness and donations be as successful if it weren’t for the social media aspect? My instinct tells me… probably not.
Don’t get me wrong, the results of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have been astounding, and they must not go unrecognized. In addition, the level of awareness created from the challenge might very well be just as or more valuable than the fundraising itself.
Is it possible that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has shed some light into an untapped advertising strategy? What could brands accomplish if they were to capitalize on this attention-seeking human behavior and use it to their advantage? Perhaps a boost in brand awareness? And with integrated charitable efforts, perhaps increased recognition as a leading philanthropic business or brand? I can only imagine what the viral Smirnoff Ice “Icing” phenomenon could have accomplished if it were paired not only with a structured social media involvement, but a charitable motivation as well.
Lastly, it must be noted that I do not attempt to generalize here. There are many, including myself, who can’t bear to draw any sort of extra attention to themselves. Despite several nominations, I have yet to pour a bucket of ice water on my head in front of all my friends on Facebook. As an Irish Catholic Jew (not necessarily mutually exclusive terms), I have been blessed with a lot of natural guilt, which has assisted in my motivation to happily donate to the ALS Association. Whatever the motivation, be it guilt, attention, an opportunity to take on a challenge, or even one that’s personal, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has undoubtedly accomplished quite a feat. What could be next?