Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Worthy of Criticism?

Bill Gates Ice Bucket Challenge
Bill Gates doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

More likely than not, you have seen the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge spreading like wildfire across social media and news outlets. The Challenge is a prime example of how something can go viral online. It seems everyone is doing the Challenge, from A-list celebrities to your next-door neighbor, and the action is getting a lot of attention. With any widespread action, there is bound to be criticism, and there is no shortage of Ice Bucket Challenge criticism. It may seem insane for individuals to criticize a fundraising campaign. However, the best opportunity for evolvement is to recognize areas for improvement. In this instance, we can use the example of the Ice Bucket Challenge to recognize areas for improvement so that similar techniques may be applied to marketing and branding on social media.

In an interest of clarity, we will digress and provide a bit of background on the Ice Bucket Challenge and its origins. The Challenge is a fundraising campaign for ALS research (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and has raised over $15 million since the campaign’s inception. The Challenge begins when someone is called-out by a friend to either pour a bucket of ice-cold water over their heads or donate money to ALS research. Then, the challenged individual is supposed to challenge three more people, and so forth. The purpose of the campaign was to drive donations to ALS research, and if the individual does not donate, at least they would increase awareness for ALS by posting an entertaining video on their social media outlets. However, many people have opted to dump a bucket full of ice-cold water and donate money, which is a double win for ALS research.

The area for improvement that critics have recognized is that the majority of the videos posted barely mention ALS. Also, very few provide information on how to actually donate to the cause. At the end of the day, all the awareness in the world is meaningless unless the awareness converts into donation dollars.

Campaigns driven by user generated content helps the campaign to go viral, but at the same time, it makes the campaign difficult to control. Critics of the Ice Bucket Challenge have also recognized that the campaign should have driven a much higher donation dollar amount, considering how huge the campaign is, and how many celebrities are getting involved. With over 45,000 mentions of #icebucketchallenge during the 9am hour today, the donation value could be significantly higher. It is believed that potential donations were lost due to the fact that clear donation instructions are not always posted with the Ice Bucket Challenge videos, and many times the videos do not mention ALS at all. The solution for ALS would have been to set a precedent for how the videos should include information on how to donate to ALS research.

Ice Bucket Challenge Criticism
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Another source of criticism for the Ice Bucket Challenge is pointed straight at California. In the throes of severe drought, what are Californians doing wasting water? It is estimated that the Ice Bucket Challenge wastes over 3 million gallons of water every day in California. The criticism has gotten so big that it has its own hashtag, #droughtshaming.

Now that we have ripped apart a good cause, don’t fret, because we have a solution. As wrong as this may sound, the answer lies in Charlie Sheen. The video below of Charlie Sheen doing the Ice Bucket Challenge has a solution to the wasted water issue as well as a fantastic “call to action.” Sheen “makes it rain” with a bucket full of $10,000 cash, which he pledges to donate to ALS research. Sheen then says, “”Let’s face it, ice is going to melt, but this money is going to actually help people,” Sheen continues. “So I am here by calling out Jon Cryer, Chuck Lorre and Ashton Kutcher to identically do what I just did. Come on, it’s for a great cause. Have a great day.” Surprisingly well said, Charlie.

At the end of the day, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a great success for ALS research. But it is always important to recognize areas for improvement so that marketers can learn from and evolve their campaigns. The main lessons to be learned: ensure an obvious call to action, avoid wasting natural resources, and people like to post videos of themselves coved in freezing water.

One great example of businesses participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the “right” way is Sharp Business Systems located in Santee, California. Not only did the executive team participate, but they also encouraged a conversation with their entire internal corporate team to discuss the importance of this issue and why they wanted to contribute to this worthy cause. Members of the executive team and staff (not shown) all donated to ALS as part of this exercise. The ice buckets were dumped on the executives at a corporate event to showcase their commitment to the cause and the community. In addition, they called upon their corporate partners to join the challenge and commit to donate to ALS as well. Understanding that cause-minded corporations not only create a great work environment, but also increase their “appeal factor” with existing and prospective customers, Sharp truly “gets” how to make a difference and have fun, too.

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