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29 August 2014 - 5:12pm | posted by | 2 comments

The #icebucketchallenge: a marketing lesson in activism or slacktivism?

The #icebucketchallenge: a marketing lesson in activism or slacktivism?The #icebucketchallenge: a marketing lesson in activism or slacktivism

Ben Caspersz, managing director of PR and digital communications agency Claremont, explores the marketing lessons to be learned from the viral Ice Bucket Challenge.

The #icebucketchallenge saturated the social web on a global scale, but is it an example of cutting-edge online activism that signals the way forward for social communications, or is it merely tokenistic slacktivism that makes people look good in front of their peers but has little or no long-term impact on the issues? 

First, let’s look at the facts:

It's everywhere: This morning my son was 'invited' to take part in the ice bucket challenge. Not that surprising, except that my son is 12-months old.  I’m not sure how that would go down, to be honest.  

It's been explosive: YouTube cites 'about 2.3 million’ ice bucket challenge-related videos (around 4.4 years of content) and 28 million people have joined the Facebook conversation. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, David Beckham, Oprah Winfrey and Alistair Darling/Alex Salmond are among the hundreds of big names that have sploshed for dosh. 

It's been hijacked: Macmillan pretty shamelessly requisitioned the challenge for their own charity's benefit. A bit un-classy? Anti-social media can bring short term benefits - Macmillan’s raised £250,000 so far - but in the long run treating others in a way Macmillan wouldn't like to be treated itself could erode the charity’s trusted brand reputation. 

It’s been hacked: Gaza locals did a rubble bucket challenge. Ouch.  Aid charities are pointing out how the challenge comes across to people who struggle to survive without access to clean drinking water. Double ouch. Personally, I’m with Sir Patrick Stewart, who used the ice in his bucket for a glass of scotch – now that’s classy. 

It’s well timed: Silly season has been in full swing and the kids on school holidays. Perfect.  

It's generated (ice) buckets of cash and awareness for a little-known cause: The ALS association reports $85m in donations since 29 July compared with $1.8m in the same period last year, including 300,000 new donors. That’s £3m a day. Astounding considering the charity’s outlay of next to nothing.

And it's already on the wane: A month ago #icebucketchallenge didn’t exist, a week ago it hit its peak, now it is at 61 per cent of peak and will no doubt be consigned to CharityComms case studies by the end of September.

The big question now for cause-related marketers is whether or not the #icebucketchallenge or similar gimmicks is the right way to go.  

It is easy to pick holes in new ideas; indeed, many in the blogosphere are positively incentivised to shoot them down just so they have something controversial to say.  

Yes, it's perhaps adding to the trend for narcissistic charitable giving, but for me it is clear: the results speak for themselves. Millions of people learned about a disease they hadn't heard of before, sometimes through personal stories of people who were affected; squillions of pounds have been raised; and loads of people have had fun and joined in with something in their local communities and in their online communities.  What's not to like?

But before you ask – no, I will not. End of.


31 Aug 2014 - 00:39
yupart's picture

Thank you Mr. Caspersz, for addressing this explosive, well-intentioned phenomenon that although veiled behind goodwill, is something that is being debated as an unintentionally malignant initiative. In a world where consumers are bored and frustrated by traditional advertising, marketing is taking shape through creative, experiential, interactive advertising –and what better way to do so than advocating for a good cause and getting everyone involved through social media? Being nominated makes individuals feel special, and sharing this news and calling friends out through a social network creates harmless peer-pressure. Or does it? Is this ingenuous advertising or what? In reality Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a horrifying disease that causes inevitable death within two to five years, however it has not gotten much publicity until now because research is not being funded. The reason for this is that in the United States only 30,000 (out of 314 million) people are living with this disease at a time and when comparing it with more publicized charities like the American Cancer Society which notes that almost 1.7 billion people in the United States have been diagnosed with cancer of which almost half perished –charitable donations are going where the numbers are ( & The ALS ice bucket challenge was not started by a business (although carried out by the ALSA) but through a golfer who challenged the wife of a patient living with the disease, therefore the implications of the promotion of ALS Ice Water Challenge cannot be attributed to brilliant marketing, but solely to civil society being swept away by awareness and good intentions, as is human nature. This latest craze was not strategic marketing originally but evolved into it. Like you said, it is a social movement aimed at educating and informing even though it has its controversial issues like moral licensing (taking away money or good deeds that would have gone elsewhere), comparisons in the degree of humanitarian problems worldwide (like the Gaza “hacked” section), and the simple marketing error of completing the task but not actually “buying in” to the donation challenge.

1 Sep 2014 - 14:56
CharityComms's picture

You can check out all the case studies consigned to our knowledge hub here:

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