Ice Bucket Challenge

How do you come up with the next Ice Bucket challenge?


September 26, 2014

Ever since social media became such an integral part of our lives, it has been used increasingly more effectively to raise awareness of a never-ending list of worthwhile causes. On paper it seems quite straightforward. On the one side, you have a compelling message you want to get out there; on the other, you have millions of people who can’t get enough of sharing. Bring the two together and you’re guaranteed success, right? Wrong. If it were that easy, clients wouldn’t need people like us.

The fact is, there is no magic answer to make something go viral. What is generally accepted is that a little creative thinking doesn’t hurt – and tying it into smart digital content puts it (literally) in the hands of your audience. But whether it only gets a few meagre hits or snowballs into a global phenomenon seems to have a lot to do with fate – and catching the zeitgeist at a particular time.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a perfect example. Put a search into its origins into Google and all kinds of theories emerge, many of which centre on Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2011 and challenged friends and celebrities to take the Challenge to raise funds and awareness. Once a few famous faces jumped on the bandwagon, the whole thing spiraled – thanks mainly to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Let’s study the facts here. Pouring a bucket of icy cold water over your head is not a clever idea – nor does it have much to do with motor neurone disease. It’s obviously funny and extremely stupid and I guess there’s a voyeuristic thing about watching people do something essentially unpleasant to themselves (even more so if that person is a former U.S. President or current Hollywood A-lister). But from a creative / strategic point of view, it’s hard to find a definitive reason to have believed that this would have taken off in the way it has.

What it undoubtedly confirms to those of us in marketing and advertising is that an idea doesn’t have to be complicated to find favour with a wider audience. Indeed, it would seem the simpler it is, the better. What it also says is that if it makes us – and those around us – laugh, then so much the better. And (and I think this could be the key point, but don’t quote me on that) if there is also some kind of sneaky ‘revenge’ element (as in nominating someone else to go through the discomfort you’ve had to go through) then that seems to capture people’s imagination too.

But really, who knows? Maybe if charities start encouraging people to dip their face into a bowl of baked beans, stand on a rake or shave half their head, planners, account managers and creative directors everywhere should start looking for new jobs. Or maybe the Ice Bucket Challenge simply caught the mood of the social media generation at exactly the right time.

by Dave Washer

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