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Seven viral marketing lessons from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

10-September-2014
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Seven viral marketing lessons from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Despite the inevitable and widespread criticism, the Ice Bucket Challenge has become something of a pop culture phenomenon. The intent of the challenge was to raise money for and awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). So far with more than 2,86,000 videos posted on the internet of celebrities and ordinary people taking up the challenge, it has redefined viral marketing. Though it was not conceived as a corporate strategy, there are lessons on viral marketing that brands can learn from the humble bucket of ice.

Be platform agnostic

Unlike many other videos that have gone viral on the internet, the ALS challenge gave people the freedom to upload their videos on multiple platforms- YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook. Nobody wants to be limited to one platform, and if a brand is serious about engagement, it has to explore multiple touch points across platforms. Even though the majority of the conversations seemed to have taken place on Twitter (75 per cent), the platform agnosticism of the challenge helped it develop critical mass rapidly.

Use influencers wisely

The challenge came to global prominence when celebrities and influencers like Mark Zuckerberg, Tom Cruise, Bill Gates started taking up the challenge and nominating others. However, the bulk of the videos were still from the common folks. A brand ambassador may help you get initial traction, but at the end of the day, it is the audience that will drive the awareness forward. Don't just rely on a few influencers; make each of your consumers a brand proponent. Having said that, it is important to get your celebrity endorser or influencer to be proactive about generating buzz, at least early on.

Keep things simple

Dunking a bucket of ice water on your head is uncomplicated and it is fun. Perhaps a key reason why it worked. Compare this to asking a brand’s audience to write about the proudest moment of their life, and it is easy to understand which one will be more engaging. Of course, this does not mean that every brand should forgo the cerebral for the amusing, but the aim should be to get the message across with minimal fuss. Volkswagen's ‘The Force’ commercial is a great example of how a well-executed simple concept can create a great viral footprint.

Videos are the future

If there was any further proof needed for this, the ALS challenge was it. Videos are touted the next big thing for brand promotions, and for good reason. They are interactive, you can do a lot of creative things with them and they capture attention better than static banners or creatives. Also, with new platforms like Vine, Tumblr and Pinterest, it is easier to incorporate new elements and create more engaging videos. Below is a vine viral campaign for Tide during Halloween.

Social causes work

Cynics may turn up their nose at this, but it is actually a strategy practiced by many of the big- ticket global brands. A related concept here is to identify the goal. If the Ice Bucket Challenge was just about challenging three friends to pour a bucket of water on their head, it would perhaps not have received the same traction, but, here was a goal—to create awareness about ALS. It does not have to necessarily be a ‘good Samaritan’ cause, but have an end goal.

Geometric progression is the key

The ALS challenge asked people to nominate three additional friends once they were done with it. Can a brand request the viewer to share the video, tagging friends if they like it? There is no reason not to. Anyway, most viewers who repost or share content, tag like-minded friends. This is just reinforcing the same idea.

Set a time frame

Ice Bucket Challengers were asked to respond within 24 hours. This creates a sense of urgency. Without a time frame, most respondents would probably take their own sweet time to get into action. So, if your video is about an activity, the golden rule is to set a time frame.

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