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How The Ice Bucket Challenge Raised $220M Within 2 Months - Marketing Sorcery (11 min read)

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a campaign to promote awareness of ALS disease and encourage donations for research. It was about dumping a bucket of cold water with ice over one’s head. That person then nominated a minimum of three other people to do the same thing. There were 24 hours to complete the task.

The Ice Bucket Challenge viral raised over $115 million for the ALS Association and over $220 million worldwide.

?Strategy & Tools

Highlights

  • From mid-2013 to early 2014 – a challenge called the “Cold Water Challenge” became popular and went viral in the Northern United States, and Northern Norway. The task usually involved the option of either donating money to cancer research or having to jump into cold water. In Norway, the penalty for refusal could also be having to purchase alcoholic drinks for others.
  • May 20, 2014 – the fire department of the Washington Township, New Jersey, posted a YouTube video of the “Cold Water Challenge” with the use of fire hoses.
  • June 30, 2014 – Golf Channel program “Morning Drive” televised the social-media phenomenon and performed a live, on-air ice bucket challenge.
  • July 15, 2014 – Chris Kennedy, a professional golfer, received a nomination from a friend. The same day, Chris posted his ice bucket challenge video and decided to donate to ALS anyway. His wife, whom he later nominated, had a friend suffering from ALS, named Anthony Senerchia – the first documented instance of the challenge being connected with ALS.
  • Pat Quinn, who was friends on Facebook with the Senerchias, encouraged his friends to take the challenge.
  • July 2014 - August 2014 - the ALS foundation raised $1.35 million thanks to the viral ice bucket challenge (at that time one year earlier, they raised only $22,000).
  • August 2014 – Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former baseball player, inspired several Boston Red Sox players to the ice-bucket because of his activity and fight against the ALS. He became an icon of that disease. Frates' Boston College and sporting connections became an initial focus of the challenge on ALS.
  • August 7, 2014 – a group of 200 Bostonians did an ice bucket challenge trick, making the local news, and, eventually, national headlines. They challenged New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
  • The movement went viral in the Boston area, which showed a much higher number of posts than any other area of the United States
  • After that, a number of high-profile celebrities have agreed to take part – from this moment on, the challenge took a life of its own.


How did the ice bucket challenge start?

It began with Anthony Senerchia's family activity and a golfer, Chris Kennedy's ice bucket challenge video on YouTube. Soon, people caught on the trend, and the ice bucket challenge went viral.

Primarily, the ice bucket challenge was supposed to raise money for people suffering from ALS, a serious and lethal disease. You donate some money to a charity, or you pour icy cold water on your head.


Influencer Marketing

Celebrities and athletes were the engines behind the campaign, they have really driven up the number of shares and follows. Athletes were great for this campaign because they usually have a big and engaged fanbase.

Bill Gates ALS ice bucket challenge has more than 30 million views (as of January 2022). Even President Obama was called on to participate. He didn’t upload his ice bucket challenge video, though. He opted to donate rather than pour the bucket of cold water on himself. Many stars, such as Lady Gaga, also participated in the ice bucket challenge craze.


What’s the ice bucket challenge?

The ice bucket challenge trick itself only asked participants to pour a bucket of ice-cold water and donate. The rules were simple and clear – donate or do the trick and dump it on your head. Yet, it was a bucket of ice-cold water! It wasn't that easy, so it required some “skills,” or rather – strength and resistance. Participants had 24 hours to accept and complete the challenge – there was a sense of urgency, and a possibility of losing.


Ice bucket challenge viral

Participants were asked a minimum of three people to take up the challenge – 3 people would ask another 3, and so on - this would create a viral loop. This was the viral factor. Without it. Not as many people would join the challenge.


ALS ice bucket challenge marketing

As for the ice bucket challenge cause, the whole event was of a great help for the various charities. It’s not only that you focus on selling and buying things when you are dealing with marketing.

The challenge helped the ALS foundation drastically increase their income. According to the ALS blog, before the ice bucket challenge craze, the foundation’s revenue was on the level of about $20 million yearly. Four years since the challenge (2019), this was about $28 million.

Although the original challenge was inspired by people struck with ALS, later ice bucket challenges spread to other topics, such as helping lost animals. Moreover, the psychology of the whole thing worked magic thanks to strong emotional factor, and many participants would have donated some money even if they had dumped the ice on their heads. Nobody wanted to be that “greedy Grinch.”


Ice bucket challenge viral marketing – social media

In the period between July and August in 2014, there were about 2 million tweets with the ice bucket challenge hashtag. People nominated one another to post an ice bucket challenge video documenting their actions on YouTube.


Ice bucket challenge cause

By raising the money for the ALS research, the ice bucket challenge struck the right emotions with the audience. It worked well thanks to human psychology. Fighting against a lethal disease always looks good and attracts attention.


Proof, or never happened

There wouldn't be much of a challenge without proof. The video made its evidence purposes. It was a kind of element of the whole game.


Deadline

The urgency factor is extremely powerful in marketing. 24 hours for taking up the challenge is not much. The stake is high, so nobody wants to let others down.


Publicity

The nominations were announced on video and published on the social media. People were forced to take a part in the challenge, otherwise, they would be called out. It was also quite embarrassing to be nominated, and refuse the challenge. Some people even donated despite earlier dumping the ice-cold water on their heads, so as not to present themselves as greedy and selfish.


Niche

There wasn’t anything like that in the history of the Internet. People did a lot of strange and unusual things, but pouring icy water or dumping a bucket of ice on oneself for the sake of people in need was something new.


Tools

YouTube
Instagram
Twitter

?Psychology

Storytelling

Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former baseball player, became the face of The Ice Bucket Challenge. The young man, cut down in the prime of his life, with a disease associated with another, more famous baseball player. Soon, more people struck with ALS became being recognized as living symbols of the whole phenomenon. Each person has their own story to tell.


Authority bias

Many celebrities do the ice bucket challenge trick. The combined effect of the everyday person participating with the appearance of celebrities doing the same things boosted the success of the campaign.


Noble edge effect

People and companies, whose actions are to be undertaken for a greater cause, became better in the eyes of their audiences. Noble goals also gather more participants and volunteers. This is because such events boost people’s self-esteem.

One great cause that united the whole world. There were no countries, no gender, no color, no religion. Just humanity, and its fight with the disease. The cause and effect of the challenge were clear and people were able to get behind it without any moral ambiguity. This feature also gives good feelings to people from doing something which benefits others.


Authenticity Effect

There is also the authenticity of seeing proof of the challenge. Watching people screaming while they were being doused with ice water on their heads was a meme itself. People were watching it for fun itself.

It was authentic. People found the ice-bucket challenge to be genuine. There were no paid advertisements and pushy tag-lines. It consisted of real people, many of the people we knew, doing something real that we could emulate.


In-group bias

The desire to join a movement that “everybody” is doing is compelling to people, especially if this act involves something that benefits others. This is referred to as prosocial behavior, which generally inspires others to join in.

? Last few words

Marketing is not only about selling stuff. People in a struggle with their health are quite a hype-friendly topic in many marketing situations. Most charities operate on similar psychological mechanism in people. The ice bucket challenge simply hit the weak spot, but the intention was clear and beneficial. The ALS foundation scored major earning thanks to the whole event, and other charities followed in later iterations of the challenge when nobody really remembered where it came from.

The ice-bucket challenge is described as “viral marketing gold." It was one of these phenomena that's not easy to forget.

Many people tried to copy the success of this campaign, but none of them copied the scale.

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