The Miracle of Viral Marketing
I was nominated on Aug. 24 and completed the now-infamous #IceBucketChallenge the following day from sunny Las Vegas. The temperature was 97 degrees, and I believe that worked in my favor.
My video speech was posted to my Facebook to be seen by family and friends, and a Tweet went out @juicyads. Like all those before me, I nominated several people to follow me, and donated to the cause. I warmed up, took a hot shower, and waited in anticipation to see my friends and select JuicyAds Team members take the plunge from their remote offices around the world. At the time the total raised was nearing $90 million, an extraordinary amount for the charity. Three days later, the charity had surpassed $94 million in donations.
Then, I started to think. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a miracle of viral marketing genius, even if its rampant storm around the Internet may have been unexpected. The origin of the challenge is different depending on which article you read or Facebook video you watch and the primary indication is that the ALS organization didn’t actually start it themselves. What is certain is that ALS claims the lives of something around 5,000 people per year, by no means an epidemic when an Ebola outbreak rages Africa and threatens the planet.
The viral concept at play here is essentially an Internet chain letter, with a twist. The action (a freezing-cold bucket of water over the head) is something exciting, shocking, and above all, fun. Then multiple people are nominated to keep the challenge going —and to have the enjoyment of seeing others suffer the torment of ice cold water bath!
I laughed my ass off when Chris G (JuicyAds’ COO/vice president) took the challenge and nominated another four people from the Juicy Team. I was laughing with him, not at him, because he had gone through the same thing as I had — I identified with him. That’s the personal payoff and makes a donation and doing the challenge worthwhile. The critical aspect being that these videos are being posted publicly on the Internet on Facebook where everyone sees you being digitally called out.
How do you duck the challenge when everyone in the world is watching? The unwritten rules are to donate $10 if you take the challenge and $100 if you don’t. Essentially, do this or you’ll face the ridicule of family and friends and you would be turning a blind eye to a worthy charity. Its genius, intentional or not. However, its about so much more.
Regardless of its origin, its structure is classic. While it has undoubtedly greatly benefitted ALS, it is arguable that any charity to end some form of human suffering would have benefitted the same. This isn’t about ALS or icy buckets. It’s about the human spirit; the challenge is only the vehicle the message is driven by.
That’s when one of the people I nominated (my personal trainer) ducked and criticized the challenge. The one person I thought would embrace it and undoubtedly donate thought it was stupid and donated to a water charity instead.
Were people actually making others feel guilty for donating to the “wrong charity”? For everyone in support of something, there are undoubtedly people against or who will troll and complain and criticize for their own reasons. (This is why Internet forums thrive.)
But there was something much bigger at play here —people were suddenly waking up from their lives and learning something. People were reading about ALS, its affects, its death rates.
People compared it to auto accidents, heart disease, Ebola and more. They thought about the hundreds of thousands or millions of buckets of ice water that were being wasted that could have saved lives.
Eyes were opening to what was happening in the world, to others around us. People started arguing over which charities needed the charity dollars more. People started to think and ALS was no longer the only beneficiary. The ice buckets lead to so much more.
The Sexy Advertising Network has always had a strong history of social responsibility and charitable donations. Our Juicy donation of $500 towards ALS was followed a few days later by a $250 donation to WaterCharity.org to provide clean water to developing nations. When floods ravaged southern Alberta in Canada, we donated $1,000 to aid via the Canadian Red Cross. Charity is not just because we are helping others — we are really helping ourselves.
Think about the last time you went to a nightclub and spent $500 on a $30 bottle of Grey Goose and how that money could have helped those in poverty who struggle on pennies per day. What about “La Tomatina” the world’s largest food fight with tomatoes, while people starve in drought and agricultural desolate areas? What about the fact that the world’s production of meat contributes 51 percent of the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change?
Human excess goes so far beyond a bucket of ice water and we as a human whole will never be equal no matter how much we donate, no matter how many diseases we cure, or how many children and adults are saved from poverty, famine, and dehydration. We as a developed nation do a lot of things that are ridiculous, wasteful, unhealthy, and guilt-provoking when juxtaposed against a backdrop of the suffering of others. We buy the table and bottle at a club because we want to have fun with our friends. We throw tomatoes at each other because its tradition and fun. We eat hamburgers because they taste good and make us happy. That’s the entire point of life and its nothing to feel guilty about.
To those nay-sayers against the thousands of buckets of ice or saying there are more worthwhile causes (there are), sometimes being part of a tradition, trend, or something larger than yourself and the spirit within that message is more important than the message itself. It isn’t about ALS as much as it is about unifying people, and showing that we are stronger together than we are alone. People nominated because they had taken the challenge and wanted others to join — and people wanted to do the challenge because they had seen others do it. There will undoubtedly be a new challenge in the years following, as other charities and causes spark viral campaigns of their own.
#IceBucketChallenge was a miracle of marketing. It reminded us of the importance of health, life, and those we love. It was never about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.