The Ice Bucket Challenge might prove to be the most successful charity campaign in modern times, in terms of raising awareness and research funds for a disease. According to Time magazine, it has so far raised way over $100 million dollars which in turn makes their effort last year of $2.5 million look paltry.
The inevitable question is: why has this campaign has been so successful? I’m sure a lot of other charities are asking themselves this very question, and a lot of advertising executives would love to know how a campaign became so successful, in such a short time. Pepsi, Coca-Cola , Nike and Adidas would love to create a viral video half as popular as the Ice Bucket Challenge, and let’s not forget that the campaign has cost ALS next to nothing, whereas most advertising campaigns cost a fortune.
Does anyone remember the cinnamon challenge or planking? It seems our need to be observed and thought about by others is so strong that we don’t mind looking stupid because of it. Anything for a laugh, eh? Now if you have a challenge that invokes an extremely funny reaction from the participant, it will become popular in its own right. But add a good cause to it, and you have a good justification for getting in front of the camera and performing. Who knew so many people wanted to humiliate themselves in front of the camera for a good cause.
The fact that ALS is something that does not affect most of our lives, helps its popularity. It is a rare disease that literally needs awareness. Not many people, myself included, knew anything about ALS before this challenge, whereas cancer is an exhausted disease; there is no novelty in raising awareness for cancer. It is a well worn path and lets face it, it is a bit too close to home for anyone’s liking. It is something that you might get and it might kill you. Out of sight, out of mind.
The social aspect of the challenge might be its greatest asset. It taps into our need to be part of something. It makes donation, or avoiding the donation and subsequently raising awareness, fun. So you want to be part of the challenge, you want to express yourself through it and you want others, including your friends to comment on it, watch you and laugh at you. You also have the power of nomination to get everyone else involved, friend or foe. Whoever started the chain mail concept must be smiling in his or her grave as the campaign grows exponentially.
It might be the case that people who get involved with the campaign do it for reasons other than a genuine desire to raise awareness for ALS. Most do it because it is fun and because it is for a charity, maybe they do it cause they are hungry for the camera and the attention, whatever the reason though, the campaign is working magnificently and so its objective is met with the utmost success.
The backlash against this campaign has been limited to a few articles and, ironically, memes that only wished to become as widespread as the campaign. A teenager tragically died after participating in the challenge, yet there was only muted coverage and no real media storm. Regarding this challenge, it seems the media can forgive one death if it is for charity, two or more and all sort of rumours might begin.
Sooner or later someone will come up with a new gimmick that goes viral. It probably won’t be as successful as ALS’ challenge if it follows the same formula. It would certainly need a new angle to up the game. Like it or not, it seems for the next couple of weeks our social media feed will still be full of the ice bucket challenge until another ubiquitous craze displaces it. But a bit of inconvenience is nothing if it results in some breakthrough for ALS and other Motor Neurone Disease research.