Viral Marketing: The Success of the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge by now, it’s surprising you can read this blog from that rock you’ve been hiding under. The worldwide phenomenon doesn’t show signs of abating, with a reported 1 billion collective Ice Bucket Challenge video views on Youtube as of this week.
As the story goes, the Ice Bucket Challenge was created by Pete Frates, a former college baseball player suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis who on July 31st challenged some of his friends, including football quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, to dump buckets of ice water on their heads to show support for fighting the disease.
The challenge spread through the northeast and Matt Lauer did it on The Today Show a few weeks later, giving the phenomenon unprecedented exposure. Since then, the Ice Bucket Challenge has been gaining momentum at an insane pace, giving more attention to ALS that the disease has ever had previously.
From there, everyone and their uncle did the challenge. Only President Obama managed to resist, though he did opt to donate to ALS instead.
The best part is, every participant’s video is a unique take on the challenge. Here are some of our favorite ones:

Benedict Cumberbatch:

Chris Pratt:

Charlie Sheen:

Paul Bissonnette:

Bill Gates:

Conan O’Brian:

And finally, a smooth, random guy:

Some brands have actually jumped on board and gotten their mascots to participate.

The Old Spice man did a particularly good job:


Why has the ice bucket challenge been so successful, and what can be learned from it about the nature of viral marketing?

Here’s our take on what the IBC got right:
1. It aligns itself with a worthy cause.
No marketing campaign selling a mere product could have been this successful (1 billion views in 3 months!), but a campaign centered around an issue people feel strongly about resonated strongly enough to capture the public’s imagination.
2. It leverages influencers.
It’s no coincidence that the first people to do the ALS challenge were pro athletes and celebrities. Through their wide networks of influence, they were able to give the ice bucket challenge the support it needed in order to grow exponentially.
3. It lets users create.
We’ve discussed the importance of leveraging user-based content before. The ice bucket challenge is perfect for the millennial generation because it lets users participate by creating their own content and sharing it.
4. It creates urgency.
Because those challenged have only 24 hours to do the challenge, they don’t have time to forget about it or hesitate. The sense of urgency creates its own imperative to participate.
5. It’s fun.
The ice bucket challenge doesn’t ultimately ask too much of its participants. The act itself can be done in less than a minute, and it’s fun to boot (the campaign almost certainly wouldn’t have had the same success rate if it was started in the winter).
If you haven’t been called out for the ice bucket challenge yet, it’s only a matter of time. Start thinking of creative ways to interpret the challenge when your turn comes, and you might very well be on your way to creating a viral following of your own.
[templatera id=”10395″]