By Megan Bauer
The Hoffman Agency, Portland-Vancouver

And no, I don’t mean dumping a PR agency. This is a very specific type of dumping: a bucket of ice water on your head.

You could say that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been a slippery slope for some:

But the reality is that donations to the ALS Association reached $79.7 million between July 29 and August 25, 2014 — in contrast to the $2.5 million from the same quarter last year. That’s a 3,088 percentage increase!

The real question is what made this viral phenomenon viral — nearly 2.4 million videos later?

The truth is that people have been exposing themselves to ice cold water for good causes for a while now. From the polar plunges to cold water challenges, the list goes on. While these other causes gained momentum, nothing quite matched up to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Some might question how dumping a bucket of ice water on your head relates to ALS. Nonetheless, people are really taking it to the next level:

Part of the interest in these videos is not only the sense of competition and being the star in your own show, but the hilarity and torture of it all. The truth: we like watching people do dumb things.

Some critics are pushing back on the trend, saying that it’s more about the challenge than the cause. But try saying that after hearing about the $79.7 million end result. Even if some of these videos are more focused on the competition than the actual disease, think about the raised level of awareness.

Harking back to the expression that knowledge is power, now that ALS is on peoples’ radar, it won’t just affect the organization here and now, but also in the future. This challenge further set the stage for the idea of having fun with charities on a broad scale.

What the ice bucket challenge boils down to is that it holds people accountable for contributing to a worthy cause. With the built-in 24-hour timer and individual call-outs, it’s pretty hard not to participate — hence the constant stream of videos on everyone’s Facebook feeds.

From a PR standpoint, it isn’t about how silly the action is, but about what the action is for. It helps people to feel the realness of the disease, especially after actual people with ALS participated. In this case, social media is being used to call people to action for a worthy cause, whether they want to be elected or not.

To the critics questioning the way the money is being raised … Who cares? Look at the end result.

Note: If you want to get a more in-depth look at the history and analytics behind the challenge, plus a few thoughts on its success, check out this post by Isabelle Lim out of Hoffman’s Singapore office.

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