Why the Ice Bucket Challenge Went Viral

Before I explain why I think the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, I’d like to tell you what it is first. In case you’ve been living under a rock.

The concept is simple, and supports research for ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain. There are only a few simple rules to the challenge:

  • If someone challenges you, you have 24 hours to comply and post your video.
  • If you don’t want to drench yourself in ice water, you have to donate $100 to ALSA.
  • If you DO drench yourself in ice water, you can then donate any amount that you can.
  • In your video, you have to call out other people that you’d like to do the challenge.

So, here’s mine. Video is up, and donation made, Matthew Gallizzi and Corey Gwin, you have 24 hours to comply!

So why did the Ice Bucket Challenge go viral?

There are definitely a lot of pieces that made this campaign go viral, first lets look at a few that contributed to its success, but then we’ll talk about the single piece that I think made it explode.

Peer Pressure

This one is pretty obvious, but I can’t stress its importance enough. The concept of challenging another person to dump a bucket of ice water (literally ice…in water, not just cold water) is something that was going to get some traction no matter what.

You’ve got people doing something crazy (and a little stupid probably). People are going to watch, people are going to laugh, and people aren’t going to want to back down if their friends challenge them to do it as well.

This is peer pressure at its finest, used for good and not evil. Instead of just “all my friends are doing this” it’s “all my friends are doing this, and they specifically called me out.”

It’s Ridiculous

You’re dumping a bucket of water on your head that you’ve added entire bags of ice to. Let’s be real for a minute, that is pretty ridiculous. Since I’m from Wisconsin, what I would compare this to is the “Polar Plunge” where countless Wisconsinites jump into the freezing cold Lake Michigan wearing only a swimsuit.

What makes the Ice Bucket Challenge even better is that it can be done by anyone, anywhere. No need to travel all the way to Lake Michigan.

Just like it’s a badge of honor to say your partook in the Polar Plunge, it’s a badge of honor to say that you dumped a bucket of ice water on your head.

It’s for a Good Cause

Not only do you get that badge of honor, but it’s for a good cause. You’re not being ridiculous for no apparent reason, you are being ridiculous to support a disease that otherwise would go untreated.

ALS doesn’t affect a large amount of people, and therefore the drug companies don’t put much effort into figuring out a cure. Since the Ice Bucket Challenge started, ALSA has raised over $50 Million. With that money, the organization can now afford to pay researchers to spend their time working on a cure.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that? Whether or not it is for the ALS, or for your charity of choice.

The most important part, however, is Urgency

Its got peer pressure, its ridiculous and its for a good cause. Put all that in a pot and you’re bound to achieve success, right?

I would argue that if they didn’t apply this last technique, that they would have had at least 50% less success than they have achieved.

This technique is Urgency. I’ve talked about it in my 3 Launch Strategies post, and its power is not to be underestimated.

Just picture the Ice Bucket Challenge, but without the 24-hour to comply rule. This would drastically reduce the follow-through in my opinion. If you don’t give someone a deadline, they may say they are going to wait until the weekend, until next week, and then before you know it they have completely forgotten about it.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is definitely a “fad.” It’s guerrilla marketing at its finest, which means that it focuses on the “now” instead of a long game. If one or two celebrities or people did the challenge every week, no where near $50 million would have been donated. Instead, with the compound effect of the 24-hour rule, 1 person turns into 3, turns into 7 turns into thousands of people per week.

I would like to congratulate the marketer that added the 24-hour rule to this challenge, as in my opinion, it is the single most important part of this challenge.

If you’d like to learn how to use Urgency to make your content go viral, raise money for your charity, or to gain more pre-signups for your product, I’d highly recommend checking out my 3 Launch Strategies post.

Act Now

Did you get any value from this post? I would like you to donate to ALS, do the Ice Bucket Challenge or support your favorite charity today. Comment on this post and let me know who you supported!




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