Marketing Lessons from the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a viral sensation, and a success story for the ALS Association. The Digital Marketer shares her thoughts about what made it so successful, and offers some tips for creating your own challenge.

Diane S. Thieke,

If you’re a digital marketer, you’ve surely spent a few sweltering hours by the water admiring the viral marketing campaign of the summer on your iPhone. Since late July, the Ice Bucket Challenge has swelled social media feeds, helping to raise awareness and more than $31.5 million for the ALS Association. (Check out one of the famous folks who has participated in the Challenge here.)

With a little bit of Googling, you’ve also probably discovered that the ALS Association had nothing to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s an accidental beneficiary of viral videos. Despite the disease’s close connection to baseball--it’s commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the Yankee first baseman--the Ice Bucket Challenge actually started with professional golfers.

Initially, the idea was to raise money for the golfers’ favorite charities. But when Jeanette Senerchia, the cousin of a professional golf coach, completed the challenge, she donated to the ALS Association. (Her husband has ALS.) She challenged their large circle of friends and family to do the sme, and yhe connection to ALS stuck.

It would be easy to attribute the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge to chance. But if we reverse engineer the campaign, we can identify several characteristics contributing to its success. These characteristics are backed by the observations of Kevin Allocca, Head of Culture and Trends at YouTube.

In his classic 2011 TED Talk, Why Videos Go Viral, Allocca says content goes viral for three reasons: unexpectedness, communities of participation, and tastemakers. The Ice Bucket Challenge has all of these characteristics.


The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.