A lesson in making a splash: Why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has caught the imagination of so many

It’s been pretty hard to avoid the Ice Bucket Challenge that’s been taking social media by storm in recent weeks. In case you’ve missed it, the challenge aims to raise money and awareness for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), more commonly known over here as motor neurone disease (MND).

In the Ice Bucket Challenge, a nominated person has to film themselves having a bucket of ice water tipped over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association (or they can always do both!). Once they’ve completed the challenge, the nominated person uploads the video to social media and passes the challenge on to three other people, who then have 24 hours to complete the challenge.

What’s made this campaign spread so quickly?

There are countless charitable campaigns making the rounds at any given moment, but the Ice Bucket Challenge has became a viral sensation for a few reasons:

1. Vanity

Most people like attention and to have others see them in a positive light. This challenge lets participants look both brave and charitable, and through sharing on social media, they can be sure the rest of world sees them as this too.

2. Competition

We can all get a bit competitive at times, so the ability to nominate others to take on the challenge will always appeal, as we can see if others will take up the challenge too, and if they’ll measure up to our own efforts.

3. Celebrities

Once this campaign started being picked up by celebrities, it stole the headlines. We like to see that celebrities are just like us. These often crudely shot videos that show the natural reactions of celebrities as the ice water hits them lets us see them as real people, without the full makeup, wardrobe, and retouching. It’s made even more interesting to see celebrities challenging their famous friends to also rise to the occasion.

The standout Ice Bucket Challenges

While there’s now been a number of well-known faces taking on the Ice Bucket Challenge, some have been particularly memorable for different reasons, so we’re counting down our Top 10 Ice Bucket Challenges...

10. Dr Dre

After recently completing a $1bn deal with Apple for his Beats corporation, Dr. Dre’s acceptance of the Ice Bucket Challenge shows that even the biggest hip hop stars are not immune to the challenge. While Dre initially seems a bit nervous around the contraption set up, he takes it like a trooper and barely flinches as the ice water comes crashing down over him.

9. Lady Gaga

Many of the celebrities have been taking the opportunity to let their guard down during the Ice Bucket Challenge, Lady Gaga opted to keep up the mystique and glamour to create an arty, silent video that perfectly encapsulates her as an artist.

8. George W. Bush

It’s not just musicians getting involved in the campaign, politicians are getting in on the action too. One of the most notable participants was former US president George W. Bush (who wouldn’t want to see him get doused with ice water?). Bush then upped the ante by passing on the challenge to former opponent Bill Clinton, reigniting old political rivalries.

7. Bill Gates

Challenged by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates was not content to simply throw a bucket of water over his head. The Microsoft founder wanted to do the challenge ‘better than it’s been done‘, so what did he do? He hand built an impressive apparatus to complete the challenge, of course.

6. Paul Bissonnette

Taking things even further was hockey player Paul Bissonnette. Why simply stand in your own garden with a bucket of ice water when you can stand on top of a cliff edge and have a helicopter soak you with glacier water? Now that’s taking the Ice Bucket Challenge to the extreme.

5. Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen took a different approach to the challenge; while Sheen didn’t make it rain ice water, he did make it rain to the tune of $10,000 for ALS. While some may have preferred to see Charlie Sheen get a chilly bath, Sheen makes a good point when he says “Ice is going to melt, but this money is going to actually help people”. Good work Charlie.

4. Jon Bon Jovi

While on the surface Jon Bon Jovi’s Ice Bucket Challenge may not seem too different from any other, what makes this one stand out is who he nominates – former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. Sambora abruptly left the band during Bon Jovi’s spring tour last year, so this challenge from Bon Jovi to Sambora could signal a thaw in the duo’s relationship with the Ice Bucket Challenge bringing former bandmates and friends closer together. (">Richie Sambora has since accepted the challenge).

3. Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters definitely get an A+ for effort in their acceptance of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Wanting to do more than just have a bucket of ice water thrown on them, the band re-created the infamous Carrie prom scene in their hilarious video as they get drenched in this dramatic scene.

2. Anna Wintour

Anna Wintour’s Ice Bucket Challenge scores a high place on our list simply because we would never expect the woman often referred to as Vogue’s ‘Ice Queen’ to have accepted the challenge. Wintour, who is known for sitting front row at fashion shows with her sunglasses on and an expression not giving anything away, lets down her guard and shows her softer side as her family gives her an icy shower.

1. Pete Frates

Pete Frates may not be a familiar name to you, but the former Boston College baseball captain was the inspiration behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon. Diagnosed in 2012 with ALS at just 27 years old, Frates wasn’t able to complete an Ice Bucket Challenge himself, but could nominate others to do so. Soon athletes all across Boston were completing the challenge, this spread to athletes across the US, and it wasn’t long before celebrities, families and everyone else were getting involved too. To bring the challenge full circle, Pete Frates finally took the challenge himself on 14 August in a truly moving moment at Fenway Park.

What can we learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge?

In just over three weeks, the ALS Association has raised over $40m, which is 20 times more than the amount it received over the same period last year. This is an impressive feat for a single charity to achieve in such a short space of time.

A big part of the success of this campaign is down to the fact that anyone can take part without too much effort, and they then become the stars of the campaign themselves (similar to the ‘no make-up selfies’ which ended up raising £8m for Cancer Research UK in just six days).

Is the way forward to give people a route to get involved with campaigns with minimal effort (rather than training for a 5k run)? Possibly. This approach certainly maximises the amount of people that can get involved. The shareability factor is also important; in both the Ice Bucket Challenge and the ‘No make-up selfies’, participants were able to share visuals of themselves overcoming obstacles by doing something that would make them feel uncomfortable, therefore becoming the heroes of the story.

So, in short, give everyone an opportunity to be involved, and put the individuals at centre of the story so that people feel a personal connection to the campaign. Sounds easy, right?

Emma Caswell is content planner at Digital Annexe

Find out more about the ALS Association or its UK counterpart the MDN association.

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