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Freezing out ALS goes viral: The #IceBucketChallenge

Abby Rex-Groves  Follow

IceBucketchallengeUnless you're on one of those "unplugged" cleanses, by now you've probably heard of, seen or participated in the #IceBucketChallenge. The challenge, which supports and raises awareness for patients with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), deserves more than just the "viral" label; it has morphed into a movement.

What seems like an exercise in slacktivism might actually be the most successful viral marketing campaign to sweep the internet. Participants who are nominated are asked to complete the challenge within 24 hours or donate $100 to an organization working to fight ALS. Headed by the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge, Matt Lauer, Lance Bass, Justin Timberlake, Boston Bruin's players and members of the Kennedy family are among the millions who are proudly dousing themselves with buckets of ice water, after "nominating" peers to take on the challenge.

As a result of the challenge, the ALS Association has received $2.3 million in donations since July 29th, a huge increase from the mere $25,000 the foundation received over the same period last year. So how does 20-30 seconds of a voluntary ice shower translate into a 1,000% spike in donations?

This isn't the first time this idea or some similar "if I (insert uncomfortable, embarrassing, daring action), then someone will make a donation" type campaign has appeared, so why is this one so successful? Additionally, how can we utilize these tactics in other PR campaigns? Let's go to the play-by-play:

A Friendly Face: Former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates and 30-year-old New Yorker Patrick Quinn were diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The pair decided to team up and reach out to friends and family, all who were happy to endure a freezing cold splash to help Pete, Patrick and other ALS patients. The campaign spread like wildfire across the web, owing to the touching story of these two inspiring and relatable young men.

Call to Action: Similar challenges have the shock factor; people will donate money to see Kim Kardashian without makeup on. But that picture is seen and soon scrolled over. Uniquely, the #IceBucketChallenge incorporates a key engagement factor, where nominees are held accountable by their peers. Due to the public nature of social media, lack of participation won't go unnoticed.

"Selfie" Factor: Whether it's #SelfieSunday or #ThrowbackThursday, we are immersed in the "me, myself and I" generation, where social media is the ultimate venue for self promotion. Users are keen to post anything starring themselves, especially in the role of humanitarian. The exclusivity of the #IceBucketChallenge nomination system applies a notion of popularity to those "chosen" to help #StrikeOutALS.

In this "million messages a minute" age, public relations professionals are tasked with helping their clients standout amongst a sea of competitors. In order to produce campaigns as successful as the #IceBucketChallenge, we need to incorporate elements of the viral challenge that resonate with our clients' target audiences. Whether it's the interactive campaign that drives engagement, or the unexpected idea that provides personal connection, your client should be the friend request its target audience has been waiting for.

Now, we nominate YOU to complete the #IceBucketChallenge to #StrikeOutALS. You have 24 hours! End of Story



Well, consider the challenge accepted.

The Prosek CT office has taken the plunge. I think you know who's next! Support the cause, and spread the word.

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