For the past couple weeks, we’ve all seen a seemingly endless stream of videos from people partaking in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

What really amazes me isn’t that the campaign went viral, but that it attracted such a diverse group of participants. The campaign’s wild success can be pinned down to single component – one that you can easily reproduce in any of your own future marketing campaigns. Hailed as the Chuck Norris of branding, author John Morgan writes one of the most compelling branding books to date, titled Brand Against the Machine. In it, he reveals one golden tidbit of advice: “The future of branding is marketing with people and not at them.”

This is exactly what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge does.

Morgan goes on to observe how “Today’s marketplace is overcrowded and noisy. There’s no shortage of competition…”

That’s right – charity has ventured boldly into an online marketplace, and if it’s not charity directly, it’s a flood of Kickstarter and other crowd funding campaigns all begging for your dollars and social shares.
He furthers adds, “The good news is that despite an overcrowded marketplace, it’s easier than ever to be unique. The Internet has provided us with so many tools and resources that allow us to build real relationships with our target audience.”
And that’s precisely the underlying principle some genius marketer at ALS decided to infuse into their own marketing/funding campaign.
ALS took a traditionally serious online campaign, one that usually emphasizes suffering, and turned it into something entirely different…something fun. Rather than being the Sarah McLachlan of campaigns, it become Ashton Kutcher; rather than relying on sympathy and guilt, it just wanted to have fun.
The challenge was mindlessly simple to become a part of. You didn’t need to understand what ALS stood for (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, most commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), and in that way it didn’t discriminate based on knowledge but invited people based on community and enjoyment – a completely novel concept for any organization let alone one that addresses such a serious progressive neurodegenerative disease.
People who aren’t even necessarily charitable in any way, got involved. Children got involved; completely lazy apathetic people (who’ve never had a philanthropic bone in their body) got involved; even celebrity and politicians got involved. And for the latter, it wasn’t just that stars got involved, but the caliber of participants that were willing to step forward openly – people like George Bush, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Patrick Stewart. These are people you’d be hard pressed to get into a room, at the same time, for your event – let alone attract to your charitable cause’s marketing campaign. The fact that this happened is unbelievably mind blowing and it changes the game.
Spin off contests sprung up quickly, including India’s Rice Bucket Challenge. A Time Magazine article titled “Rice, Not Ice: India’s Answer to the Ice Bucket Challenge,” written by Arpita Aneja tells more. Aneja writes, “According to the Independent, the Rice Bucket Challenge was started by Manju Latha Kalanidhi, a journalist from Hyderbad, India. The first donation was made Sunday Morning and the movement’s Facebook page has more than 35 thousand likes so far.”
The Rice Bucket Challenge is slightly different but piggyback’s off the original concept: (1) Pick up a bowl of rice from your kitchen, (2) Go to the nearest needy person and give it to them, (3) Click a picture and post it on Facebook with the hashtag #RiceBucketChallenge, and (4) Click a picture and post it on Facebook with the hashtag #RiceBucketChallenge.
With such overwhelming success, you begin to wonder whether there were any cracks in the system. There were. Some people didn’t understand that the challenge was that you donate AND dump a bucket of ice on your head. It wasn’t giving you an option between the two, yet people were filming the dump and social sharing it with the option of “…OR dump a bucket of ice on your head.” Yet, even if these people weren’t donating, they were helping the campaign continue to go viral. They were partaking in the challenge, social sharing, and directly calling out three other friends (people in their network) to partake in the challenge too. The challenge is constructed in such a way that even if some people miss the mark, the campaign itself is still successful. As a marketing director, you really can’t complain about that.