August 22, 2014 Kevin Erb

Ice, ice baby

Challenge...acceptedLest you were living under a rock or took a trip to outer space for your summer vacation, the odds are very, very high that you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and seen it in action recently. (We’ve even had our fair share of fun with it here at the agency this week.)

In addition to being incredibly successful at its mission – it’s raised more than $40 million for the ALS Association over the past few months alone and generated an unprecedented level of awareness around the world – the challenge has served as a textbook example of a successful viral campaign. It’s a dream come true for any organization, but especially so for a nonprofit, which is benefiting from incredible amounts of money raised and public awareness – all without having to do much or spending anything.

We’ve discussed the vital ingredients when it comes to increasing your likelihood of developing viral content before, but thought the overwhelming and ubiquitous success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge offers up a unique chance to delve a bit deeper into the factors that are driving its reach – and what you could take from it.

So while the factors fueling the growth of the Ice Bucket Challenge are many, we see a few key ones that have been most important and valuable:

1) It’s dead simple. Seriously – dump a bucket of ice water on your head or write a check for $100. Film it, post it to Facebook, done.

2) It’s highly visual. Which is part of what makes it so simple. Someone submitting themselves to a small slice of physical discomfort for a good cause makes for great visual content.

3) It has just the right amount of schadenfreude. Who wouldn’t want to watch Oprah or Steven Spielberg or the guy who played AC Slater on “Saved by the Bell” get a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads? (Or that guy on Facebook you really don’t like, for that matter?)

4) It is literally designed to go viral. Those accepting the challenge must in turn nominate three others to accept it as well, so the participation rate triples each time someone accepts. It’s a classic “pay it forward” approach that ensures truly organic growth in participation and awareness. Getting this approach off the ground can sometimes be slow and time-consuming, but once you hit that tipping point, it’s a tidal wave. (Even when people do it wrong, it goes viral.)

5) It turns participants into content creators. Instead of passively absorbing an existing piece of “viral” content, everyone gets in on the action, creating their own content. The cumulative effect of all those individual pieces of viral content feeding into the larger narrative is staggering.

As the Ice Bucket Challenge shows no signs of cooling down any time soon, it’s an invaluable opportunity to dig a bit deeper and see what ingredients in its success could be relevant to you – and what lessons you can take from them. And take advantage of this one chance in your life to dump a bucket of freezing-cold water on someone else with impunity.

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