Spitfire Strategies

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Too Much Fun?

Still drying off from a jolting dose of over-the-head ice water? If so, you and several million of your closest friends participated in the viral event of the summer: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Since the phenomenon has begun to fade, we’re able to take a step back and take stock: What happened, exactly? Why are some critics crying foul? And what can we learn for other calls to action?

What do we know?

Lots of people took the challenge, and even more talked about it online. Facebook reported that by mid-August more than 2.4 million Challenge videos had been shared, associated with more than 28 million posts, comments, and likes.

Lots of people actively sought information. People are actively seeking out information about ALS, too. Visits to alsa.org jumped from an average of 8,000/day to a peak of 630,000 in one day in August. And the Wikipedia entry on ALS received 430,000 visits/day this summer, up from an average of 8,000/day.

Lots of people donated money. A lot of money. As of early September, the ALS Association has received more than $100 million in donations from more than 3 million donors.

This sounds like a triumph. Why are some people complaining?

Tons of people donated learned more about a terrible disease and donated lots of money to a well-regarded charity. What’s the problem? Some critics complained that of the people who got doused by ice-water, too few donated. (Though more than 3 million did.) Some complained that too few people made the connection between the Challenge and ALS. (Though hundreds of thousands went online to learn more.) And some complained that all those ice-bucket crazy kids were participating for all the wrong reasons. Because it was summertime, and hot out. Because their friends were doing it. Because it was fun.

Here’s a representative critique from Michael Hogan of The Telegraph: “I just wish it had been achieved in a less self-regarding way. It takes true character to give away one’s hard-earned cash without the promise of a Facebook thumbs-up or retweets in return.”

So the gist of these complaints is that the Challenge was too well-timed, too peer-pressured, too fun, too easy, and included too much recognition.

Aren’t those good things?

Yes. Of course they are. In fact, they’re some of the very reasons why the Challenge has been so successful. And we’ve been saying so for years, in Discovering the Activation Point, Spitfire’s series of peer-reviewed, field-tested best practices designed to turn passive supporters into active champions. Specifically, tips within Activation Point that the Ice Bucket Challenge exemplifies include:

Be sure your call to action is simple, low-risk, easy, and fun;

  • Let participants feel like a hero;
  • Show leaders or celebrities doing it first;
  • Make participation seem like the social norm (everybody’s doing it); and
  • Ride the waves of persuasion (take advantage of good timing).

Great. So how do we create something else like this?

You don’t. Don’t try to copy this and whatever you do, don’t “try to go viral.” The ALS Challenge didn’t start with ALS. It started organically, among people who believed and cared in the cause. Empower your supporters as champions.

Don’t dismiss campaigns that call for actions “for the wrong reasons.” If the campaign achieves your objective, embrace your audience’s reasons for taking action, even if it seems frivolous or silly.

Hop on the bandwagon. If you see something catching fire that’s working, don’t worry that it wasn’t your idea. Support it and celebrate it.

And go to www.activationpoint.org to learn more.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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