The Ice Bucket Challenge—A Viral Phenomenon

Ice Buckget Challenge and Social MediaBy now you’ve either heard of or participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, created to raise awareness and money for the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) association (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The challenge is to either donate money to the cause or have a bucket of ice water dumped over your head, and then nominate three other people to complete the challenge, though later renditions of the challenge include donating and dumping ice water on your head. The viral challenge has produced over $100 million donations in one month, a 3,500% increase compared to this time last year. So, how did the association get 3 million people to donate? Social media.

It has long been debated whether social media generates a high return on investment. The Ice Bucket Challenge is proof that it can. ALS’s success was due to peer-to-peer sharing, rather than dollars spent on fundraising. Despite some negative press, the challenge revealed great content marketing tips. The challenge was easy, fun and shareable. And it didn’t hurt that a vast amount of celebrities got involved.


The key to any marketing campaign is to make the call-to-action clear and simple. If a consumer has to try to figure out what to do, it’s less likely they will do it. Good content should be simple and straightforward. The message was clear: donate or withstand the ice-cold water (and later, do both). The Ice Bucket Challenge was very easy for anyone, of all ages, to accomplish. This was a very simple and easy task that didn’t take much time, money, or resources.


The second reason it was such a success is because it was fun (and amusing). People like to laugh, and that includes laughing at themselves and other people. Great content makes us feel good, and the Ice Bucket Challenge was definitely fun to watch. The reactions are priceless. Watching your closest friends and family pour ice-cold water over their head made it worth doing it to yourself—not to mention it was all for a good cause! Also, groups of people could participate at the same time, making it a shared event.


Lastly, the challenge was shareable. The self-made content was shared all over social media: On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Vine. Of course, if one accepted the challenge, it needed to be posted to social media. According to Facebook, the site had over 28 million Ice Bucket Challenge related posts, videos or updates. The wide popularity of the challenge was due to the number of people sharing their experience. Several news outlets even picked up the story. Celebrity Ice Bucket Challenge videos spread like wildfire, and there are quite a few Ice Bucket Challenge Fails.

Some EVGers participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge!
A few of the EVGers that took the challenge – Left to Right: Joey Hall, Anthony Gaenzle and Lisa Plumridge

Although the ALS Association is still receiving donations, the Ice Bucket Challenge is beginning to dwindle. In a few weeks the hype will completely die, but the legacy will not. The Ice Bucket Challenge has been one of the most successful nonprofit social media phenomena.

Enjoyed this post? Read more by Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Muckensturm – Communication and Media Professor

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