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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.

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