Social media’s holy grail is a bucket

Social media’s holy grail is a bucket

The holy grail of social media has been found. That free, successful-beyond-imagination, viral campaign that every corporation, product and cause has been searching for since the dawn of Facebook has hit like a cold bucket of water – in a good way. And, as fate would have it, it’s for a great cause.

With the Ice Bucket Challenge already having reached over $100 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research and patient care – $97 million more than this time last year – it’s hard to gauge the ceiling. Commentators have speculated that the awareness that is being generated about the little-known illness will be of more long-term value than even the phenomenal funding achievement.

Marketers everywhere are already dissecting the campaign, and it certainly is a textbook case. The idea has so many things going for it that we can draw from:

  • It’s cause-oriented – people crave purpose.
  • It’s accessible. Everything you need to participate is at your fingertips or in your kitchen.
  • It’s a platform to call out and challenge friends, which increases engagement and multiplies the viral aspect exponentially.
  • It’s a chance to show off. “Look at me” is still one, if not the, core driver behind social media engagement.
  • It’s a chance to engage the stars (challenging celebrities, etc.).
  • It packages a sobering topic with fun and optimism, a takeaway that’s central to all cause marketing and especially relevant to those communicating ecological concerns.

A key factor, however, is that the Ice Bucket Challenge did not begin as an ALS project. Variations of the challenge had been used to raise money for multiple charities that, obviously, did not create a national sensation. Many people credit former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates as being the one who co-opted the challenge for the ALS cause. What made the difference? How did the campaign reach critical mass for ALS where it had not for others? It’s possible that Frates’ connection with the Boston sports community created an incubator for the project to gain momentum. Effective grassroots engagement can definitely be a great starting point for something to go national. But, ultimately, as with all social attempts, there are some indefinable factors here.

As trendy and savvy as we marketers are, we’re still a little awkward at the social media party. Our brilliantly crafted (and sometimes expensive) viral videos regularly lose out to the cats that fall into the toilet or the delirious kid on his way home from the dentist. Social media thrives on randomness, spontaneity and, above all, authenticity. These are things that corporate cultures can chafe at but that are simply part of the space.

So, study away on the Ice Bucket Challenge. It truly is a textbook model for those wishing to promote a brand or cause. The fundamentals are all there, but copycats beware. What’s done is done and social media takes more than by-the-book executions to get noticed. When it comes to success in the social scene, off-the-cuff performs better than polished promotion, and being authentic is more important than being strategic. And a good dose of luck doesn’t hurt anything.

Takeaway? Be fresh, be real and, above all, be yourself.


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Posted on

September 2, 2014

About the Author

Matt Brass

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing all campaigns and collateral. With nearly two decades of marketing design under his belt, Matt has extensive experience in design, photography and videography, as well as blogging about the latest and greatest (or worst) ad campaigns out there. He leads our team on kayaking trips, too.

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