ALS ice bucket

ALS Ices Out Content Marketing For 2014: The Story

Photo credit: Juan Carlos Reyes

The ultimate goal of content marketing is to draw attention. The signal of successful content marketing is when that attention results in action. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has literally iced out content marketing, providing one of the most incredibly perfect examples of the legendary power of compelling promotion for 2014. There’s a great deal for marketers and business owners to glean from this trending phenomena.

How It All Began

Would you believe that the popular challenge did not start out as an ALS Association fundraiser? According to Geoff Herbert of, the roots of the phenomena date back to last winter when professional golfers were on a mission to gain support for various pet charities. According to The Guardian, the ice bucket craze hit the national radar when golfer Greg Norman issued the challenge to Matt Lauer, host of “Today,” and he accepted on live television.

The challenge comes with simple rules. Once received, you must make a video of dumping a bucket of ice water over yourself, post it online, and then tag Facebook friends and family, challenging them to do the same. Per the rules, you have 24 hours from being “nominated” to take the challenge or your subsequent forfeit demands a donation of $100 to a cause of your choice. The challenge has gone viral, and ALS has become the overwhelming standard.

What’s the connection between ALS and ice water? Just how did it become the overwhelming standard? It all goes back to the family of Pete Frates, a baseball player diagnosed two years ago with ALS. Their campaign fueled the standard and the results…well, they speak for themselves! Let’s consider the scope of this event.

The Legendary Scope

According to the ALS Association, from July 29 to August 27 of 2013 a total amount of 2.7 million dollars in donations was raised. As of August 27, 2014, the ice bucket challenge has rasied $94.3 million since July 29, 2014 from existing donors and 2.1 million new donors.

Icono Square Blog has been tracking the challenge since it went live on TV via Matt Lauer back on July 15, 2014. Using their hashtag tracking tool, they tracked the number of mentions of the two official hashtags: #icebucketchallenge and #alsicebucketchallenge. After logging a total of over 3 million posts, they broke the mentions down per hashtag:

ice bucket challenge 1

Geologically speaking, the mass response to the ALS ice bucket challenge has been primarily rooted in the United States. But it has spread globally with participants from Canada, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, Lebanon, Hong Kong, China, and Malaysia. Icono Square Blog also graphed geological stats per hashtag, which show the massive response from the US:

ice bucket challenge 2

Just who has participated in the challenge? The support from some of Hollywood’s favorite celebrities has greatly contributed to its success and viral natural. A few of our favorites who have accepted and passed on the challenge include Robert Downey Jr, Oprah, and Steven Spielberg. And who can forget Tom Hiddleston’s nomination of Benedict Cumberbatch (television’s Sherlock), resulting in this hilarious continuation of the challenge that really captures the fun and reminds nominees to be punctual:

Even Google Jumped On Board

We all know Matt Cutts. He’s the Google guru. We track his tweets and stalk his site because he’s the go to guy for the latest and greatest Google news. He’s the first and last say on almost everything SEO, and when this guy does something, it’s usually followed by everyone and their Uncle jumping on board.

On August 22nd, Matt did his challenge and nominated members of the search quality team, including Brian White, Evan Roseman, and Michael Wyszomierski (aka Wysz). Not only did he say he’d write a check to donate, but he also “earned” his nominations:

With so many credible folks jumping on board, and the results of new awareness raising such a large donation total thus far, there’s just one unanswered question:

Are You Icing Out?

Don’t worry! We’re not going to ask if you’ve accepted the challenge and dumped a bucket of ice water over your head to raise ALS awareness. We’re not even going to ask if you’ve donated. But while we’re on the subject, if you haven’t at least donated to this profound cause, swing over to the ALS Association’s website and make a donation—every penny helps. And if you’ve accepted the challenge and caught it on film, feel free to share your awesomeness with us in this blog’s comments or via our social media.

The truth is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been a legendary example of epic content marketing in action. Crowd-based business models and marketing aren’t anything new, but this challenge has shown the potential benefits for non-profits. The question we’re asking is whether you’ve “iced out” your content marketing this year? And as we fly toward yet another new year, are you going to grab the takeaway lessons from the ice bucket challenge that can bolster your marketing plan?

  • Never underestimate fun and a good cause. Wikipedia notated some of the criticism that has surrounded the ice bucket challenge. It was issued as a means of raising awareness and encouraging donations. It combined a bit of fun with a profoundly good cause. In fact, it’s a safe bet that the majority of people undertaking the ALS challenge had little to no idea of what ALS was until it was issued. While critics like Williams Foxton almost insultingly label it as “a middle-class wet-T-shirt contest for armchair clicktivists,” there’s no denying the phenomenon created since the challenge went viral. It has literally become an international event as everyone from America to the UK take part.

    Takeaway: Never underestimate what a combination of good old-fashioned fun and a good cause can do. Imagine the publicity if your company had originated the ice bucket challenge and helped raise awareness and donations for such a good cause?

  • Create the moment. The ice bucket challenge wasn’t originally made for ALS, but look at what happened when an ALS stricken individual jumped on the occasion. As a brand or business, it’s up to you to create the moment, issue the challenge, and promote it.

    Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to take a risk and create that perfect moment. Chances are it won’t create itself, but if it does, don’t wait around. Jump on the wagon and gain that epic exposure. ALS did, and they’ve landed super attraction at zero cost.

  • How you craft your call to action matters. The ice bucket challenge is a lot like the cashier who asks you to donate a couple dollars to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital while you’re checking out. Although both causes are great, the ice bucket challenge managed the bigger bang for audience participation. Why? It’s all in presentation. How you entice your audience to action is just as important as what you entice them to do.

    Takeaway: Take care in crafting your call to action. How will you motivate your audience? How will you engage and compel them? Have the answers to these questions firmly in mind before crafting your all-important call to action.

  • Keep is simple and make it easy. Yes, a challenge is meant to be tough. After all, we wouldn’t call it a challenge if it didn’t take some courage or determination. The ice bucket is a shining example of a challenge that takes courage and determination without being too difficult for just about anyone to accomplish. People don’t like hard. They don’t want to climb a mountain just to respond to your call to action. The ice bucket challenge is ingenious because it’s super simple yet still takes some guts to pull off.

    Takeaway: Nobody wants to tackle something that’s terribly tough. People want fun and easy. Find those fun and easy ways to engage your audience, and find the ways that they will respond to. Your challenge could be anything from a snapshot to a click. Another great example of audience engagement comes from Sonic with their “how do you Sonic” challenge. They constantly receive new snapshots, which are displayed beneath the “See Yourself at Sonic” headline on their website.

  • Recognition motivates. One of the awesome qualities of the ice bucket challenge is recognition. In the past few months, it has quickly become a trend. Filming your successful challenge became a form of recognition, and the ALS Association encouraged it by offering handy free downloads like Twitter and Facebook cover image and profile picture downloads to broadcast challenge completion.

    Takeaway: Give your audience extra incentive. Hand them recognition or a cool, free perk for acting on your call to action.

  • There will always be critics. Despite the challenge becoming an almost overnight success of sizeable proportions to the ALS Association, there are critics. Everyone from water conservationists to celebrities has taken a critical stand, bashing the challenge as wasteful and even life threatening. And the truth is they’re right. If someone of poor health dumps a bucket of icy water over their heads (or if the action isn’t performed with common sense), they could endanger their life. If you live in a draught area, or are otherwise surrounded by water shortage, repurposing the water or opting out of the challenge are wise decisions.

    Takeaway: No challenge and no marketing plan will ever be perfect and critic free. You’ll always risk the backlash of haters, and some will have relevant, respectable points. The point is to be ready for criticism, take it in stride, and if it’s constructive and respectable put it to use to improve your strategy.

  • Videos are growing more and more popular. The challenge makes an important marketing point. Videos are beginning to take visual social platforms by storm. With a single 30 to 60 second video, an important message can be imparted that both inspires and entertains. Videos are easy for on-the-go viewers to watch and pass on. They’re responsive on mobile networks. They’re little packages packed with punch that lend themselves to creating huge social signals. Half of the reason videos go viral is because so many people find them easy to connect to in both a technological and emotional way.

    Takeaway: Expand your brand’s message and audience by taking advantage of every media outlet and type available. Videos are quickly becoming the go to standard for businesses that want to make a lasting impression, and this media type hands you endless creative possibilities. It’s the perfect media type for your busy viewers, and it’s a prime means of connecting with your audience on an entirely new level. Videos are easy to share on social media, and they’re even a great way of repurposing content in a trendy fashion.

  • Social media + Content = Unlimited Opportunity. Since the beginning of 2014, we’ve heard all about the benefits of strong, high quality content combined with social media. The ice bucket challenge has done a superb job of demonstrating the sheer value of this winning marketing equation. The challenge has lit social media channels enough to create hashtags and an unprecedented, active response. For the audience member who wants to know more about the cause, the ALS Association’s website does not disappoint. It’s beaming with high quality content that covers everything from the disease they represent to the latest news surrounding the challenge. And now thousands of authoritative websites across the Internet are linking back to them in their own quality content covering the phenomena.

    Takeaway: Content marketing works. High quality content sparks action, and it naturally boosts SEO. White hat SEO strategies really are gold, and the biggest, most effective tactic is high quality content. Combine awesome copy with the power of audience participation via social media channels and you’ve got a winning strategy at your fingertips.

Now that you’ve seen the scope, popularity, and takeaway points from ALS icing content marketing, only one question remains. What will your ‘ice bucket’ content marketing strategy be?


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