#IceBucketChallenge: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The #icebucketchallenge. That wonderful game I stumbled across on my Facebook feed where we dump ice water all over ourselves to evade charity and subsequently loosely associate ourselves with charitable human beings. It’s a weird kind of catch-22.

Amazing that, given a choice between donating $100 and being dumped with ice water, the people who choose the latter and upload the videos instead of donating consider themselves activists for the charity. Slacktivists, really. Or even clicktivists.

Credit: The Daily Mail

Credit: The Daily Mail

But before I get all cynical (I suppose it’s too late?) it looks like the campaign has raised nearly $30 million, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. They jumped out of nowhere, activated Twitter and a funny concept, took it to the next level and onboarded several million dollars to boot. Not bad for a few days’ work. Naturally, the fun won’t last, and this is the ALSA’s lucky 15 minutes of fame, just like its ancestors the Harlem Shake and KONY 2012 before it.

What I Like

I can’t tell you why the program went viral. There’s no science to predict campaign or Internet virality, despite significant research to nail down some indicators. I’m surprised the ALSA made it this far, but they had one thing going for them: celebrity endorsement. Now, I’m not always a fan of celebrity endorsement, but if you have famous people pulling stupid shtick all for a good cause, it’s bound to get some media attention. And where there is media attention, there is buzz and money. Hence the millions in donations.

What I Don’t Like

There is no connection in my mind between ice and ALS. Now, I’ve been trying to use my imagination, but either its powers are limited or the campaign simply assumes an improbable and random connection between two elements of a vastly disjointed universe.

Photo Credit: Forbes

Photo Credit: Forbes

The best campaigns are the ones that let the audience forge the connection in their brain without having to Google what the campaign is trying to achieve. That’s where ALSA failed a little bit. Case in point: we were sitting in a bar last week and my friend saw some celebrity dumping ice over someone else on TV, and she wondered out loud why she had seen a lot of that recently. I’d never heard of it.

Yeah, ALSA. #confusion…

Case in point #2: I’d seen a lot of random ice dumping videos in my Facebook feed. Being the impatient person I am, I didn’t feel like watching the videos until someone explicitly mentioned them to me, at which point the concept rose from the murky depths of my brain to somewhere just below my consciousness and I put 2 and 2 together and wondered what that ice water was all about, anyway.

You’ve gotta make it easy for people. And this sure as hell wasn’t easy.

ALSA wasn’t the first organization to activate this ice dumping concept, and only rumor knows where the idea originated, but it didn’t begin with ALSA. It wasn’t even coined by ALSA for its purposes – the movement began organically and swept the organization by storm. And that’s okay – you don’t have to be the first in a category; you have to own it first. Think Facebook vs. MySpace. And the examples are endless.

Now for the Shocker…

The tables will turn and my seemingly endless cynical diatribe will climax with a staggering announcement: I think ALSA did the best it could, where it was, with what it had. The program wasn’t the result of endless corporate brainstorming sessions, tweaked PR plans and agendas. From the coverage, it seems like they capitalized on an opportunity. A good opportunity. A really good one. And they did a phenomenal job with it.

Ironically, the organization is getting whole lot of coverage. Some of it neutral, a bit of it positive, but largely negative. Which is unfortunate for them, because, sure they have problems, but ultimately the intention is good. That doesn’t indicate the ends justify the means, but still, it’s not like they’re doing something really, immensely, terribly BAD.

If you work in PR, you better believe we know how to roll with the punches, newsjack and squeeze the juice out of every opportunity. While ALSA could have adjusted elements of its approach in hindsight, the campaign did one thing, and it did it really well: it elevated the organization and brought it to the forefront. Sure, they got got a decent bang for their buck, and that’s important. But all over my Facebook feed, and all over Google news, and all over the hybrid news sites, I’m seeing the ice bucket challenge. And I may not know what it is, but even my friends are talking about it. So I’m going to look it up, because I want to stay in the loop. And that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

Takeaways

As Mashable points out, the giving won’t last. Totally true. But better to light one candle than curse the darkness. Plus, the ALSA is now $30 million richer. Not bad for a week’s work. The question is whether they can hold on to the momentum – entirely unlikely – and what they can do differently than all the social marketing campaigns of the days of yore.

 

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