Social media feeds are filled with videos of friends taking/issuing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Yours and mine. Most have watched several of these short videos and a compilation video or two like this one from BuzzFeed. Athletes were among the first to take the challenge, but now Celebrities everywhere are getting in on the act. It quite possible that you are one of the 1.1 Million people have taken/issued the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has the top viral trend of Summer 2014 and the ALS Association must be as ecstatic as they are surprised. This is what every Marketer dreams of. While you may never see this level of success with a marketing campaign, there are timeless principles to observe and employ. 


ALS ice bucket challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is Your New Marketing Template Because…


1. It’s Fun. 

Who doesn’t like to watch people being doused with ice-cold water? This was fun 100 year ago and it will be fun 100 years from now. Think back through every Ice Bucket Challenge video you have watched. Sure, they all include ice-water and a bucket, but I bet you also recount smiles. Lots of smiles. Everyone has had fun with ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

People share what makes them smile. So make your marketing fun.

What are you doing to ensure your brand is fun to interact with online? 


2. It’s Crowd-sourced Creativity. 

The basic motif of “ice-water on the head” remains constant throughout each ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video. And yet no two videos are the same. The setting is always different. Various camera angles are employed. The volume/ratio of water and ice change. And most importantly, there is creative space for people to put their unique signature on the experience. Bill Gates, with perhaps the highest budget production, demonstrates this with a video that just might represent the most creative thing he has ever done. George Bush pulled the head-fake “I’m just going to donate” while former First-lady Laura Bush doused him and his checkbook. This works. This is funny. And who doesn’t want to watch the Stormtrooper Ice Bucket Challenge in slow motion and set to electronic music? People are creative and when given the opportunity they will prove it. Like a coloring sheet given to a child, good marketers create the basic framework but allow let their audience to color inside (our outside) the lines.

Customizable elements keep things interesting for longer which is the goal of every marketing campaign.

How can you allow for personalization or creativity within your next marketing campaign? 


3. It’s Video. 

The amazing thing about the ALS Challenge is that it is not just one viral video. It literally a phenomenon comprised of countless grassroots videos that all convert into actual cash in relatively short order. The stats continue to demonstrate that video is king online. Some things are simply better when demonstrated. Can you imagine a viral ice bucket challenge campaign generated solely through written blog entries?

Let’s give that a shot…

“Today, I received correspondence from Billy C. informing me that he was challenging me to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I am in turn issuing a challenge to Sally. F, Chris. R. and Buddy. H. You all have 24 hours! After issuing this challenge I proceeded to pour a bucket of ice-water on my head. Man was it cold! It literally took my breath away. You should have seen me, sitting there all breathless with my soaked shirt and a smile…”

Nope. That doesn’t even begin to work. For obvious reasons, writing about the ice bucket challenge is infinitely more boring than watching someone experience it. (Sidenote: the ubiquity of smart phones with easy-to-shoot video capacity is an essential component to the ALS Challenge).

Wise marketing teams are already asking the questions, “How can we get customers to capture activities on video, to be shared as a part of our next campaign?”

How is your company employing video in your marketing efforts? What aspects of your value proposition are better demonstrated then described? 


4. It’s Easily Shared. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge is brought to you by the Social Media Age. This viral success was not possible 10 years ago. Not before your grandmother joined Facebook. Not before Twitter. Not possible. No way. Everyone’s feed on virtually every platform has ice bucket challenge videos. This is the equivalent of a company buying every commercial spot on every single TV channel and running them simultaneously for almost two weeks.

Good ideas spread quickly via Social Media. Make it easy for user/participants/customers to invite others into your campaign.

Are you creating content that is worth sharing? Are you making it easy to share content with social sharing button, etc?

ALS ice bucket challenge


5. It’s Viral Loop Marketing

Viral Loop marketing can be defined as “the amount of steps a user must travel through before being able to refer the next customer(s).” Loop Marketing that actually go “viral” do so because of clear and easy onboarding that build in natural opportunities to pass it on. The campaign goes round-and-round by design, as self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating processes. Exactly no one took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and then failed to issue the challenge to the next person (or 3). It is difficult to imagine a shorter and more effective loop and or one that has been more effective. Very few people even knew what ALS was two weeks ago. Now everyone does.

Great “Viral Loop Campaigns” are simple. C
reating them is not. Do the hard work of arriving at something as simple as the Ice Bucket challenge:

  1. Receive a Challenge from a Friend
  2. Dump Ice-water or Give a $100 donation
  3. Challenge 3 Friends

How can you reduce friction/steps between onboarding new customers and referring the next run of customers? Can you eliminate steps in the onboarding or referral process?

6. The Target Persona is EVERYONE.

A “buyer persona” is the embodiment of your ideal customer based on market research and your existing customer base. This is where the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge shines. Not everyone has ALS or knows someone who does. But everyone meets the criterion of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. How is this possible? This campaign has effectively split the entire world into two enormous personas by asking the question, “Can you either pour cold water on your own head OR give money to charity?” Literally everyone qualifies. Where else has a campaign been advanced by both Teenagers on vacation and corporate types on the company lawn? This hits everyone, wherever they are. Genius.

Engage as many people as you can. Even though who are not traditionally thought of as your target persona.

How well do you know and understand your buyer persona(s)? Is there anything you can do to increase the number of people who find value in your unique value proposition? Are there people outside your persona(s) that you can creatively enlist to advance your business/mission? 

ALS ice bucket challenge

7. It’s Built on Personal Referrals.

Nothing is more proven and effective than the persona referral. Some Important Stats Related to Referrals

  •          83% of customers are willing to refer after a positive experience (link)
  •          65% of New business comes from referral (link)
  •          People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend (link)
  •          Referred Customers spend 13.2% more than regular customers (link)


The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is built on referrals. Every participant must make a personal referral to engage.  There are zero examples of participants taking the challenge without passing the challenge on to the next person(s) (generally 3). This keeps the loop going and is integral to success of this unlikely sucess story.

Build personal referrals into the very fabric of your agency/company. Refine this over time but make sure it is a central focus of all your marketing efforts.

Do you have a referral process or are you completely passive in this regard? What is your company doing to incentivize, simplify, and communicate the referral process? 

8. It Incorporates 24hr., Public Accountability. 

If there is a secret sauce in the Ice Bucket Challenge, this is it. Good marketing campaigns incorporate urgency. Good campaigns build in accountability. Great campaigns include both. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge issues urgent public accountability in a way that is almost unavoidable. The fact that the challenge has time-constraints cannot be overemphasized. People must act now, which is the best way to ensure people will act at all. The fact that they are called out on Social Media, makes those challenged feel as though they must also respond publically to “clear their name.” To do nothing is to suggest publically that you could care less about a disease as debilitating as ALS. Almost no one is willing to do that.

Urgency and Accountability are significant motivations to lead people to respond to calls-to-action. Incorporate them into your referral loop 

How are you building urgency and accountability into your referral process? 

ALS ice bucket challenge

9. It’s About Generosity. 

Because it’s for charity, there is little to no resistance for participation. It’s not like Coca-Cola is asking us to buy coke, pour in on ourselves and then nominate others to do the same for their corporate profitability. People resent that sort of thing. With charity, not so much. Online Marketers who get it have long abandoned interruption marketing for Inbound. Inbound Marketing is all about give, give, give, wait patiently, build trust, remain top-of-mind, and eventually receive. Your company may not exist to raise money for charity, but you can still be generous.

Create value without keeping score. Give away coupons, ebooks, quotes, consultations, whatever you can to add value and earn trust.

How is you adding value to others lives for free? Are you keeping the long-view of sales by building a reputation as a generous company?

10. It’s Different. 

Charities and causes have been running marketing campaigns for decades. Pink Ribbons, 5k’s, Holiday fundraisers, benefit dinners, even polar-bear plunges. But the Ice Bucket Challenge is a new take on an old tactic. It’s just different enough to have captivated an entire Country for 2+ weeks. That’s different enough.

Americans are the most marketed to people in human history. We bore quickly. Marketers copy each other quickly. You absolutely must differentiate to stand out from the noise.

How are you standing out from the tired, hum-drum tactics of your competitors? 

ALS ice bucket challenge

11. It’s Easy. 

Barriers to entry and unnecessary friction kill growth. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is effective because it avoids both. Every American has the essential components of the challenge on hand. Bucket (bowl/ice chest). Ice. Water. Most can gather these items in 2 minutes or less. Many marketing campaigns fail to go viral because they require complicated onboarding processes. We ask for too much information. We ask for sensitive information. We require too many steps. Or require things that aren’t on-hand. Or our campaigns are too confusing. To participate in the Ice Bucket challenge is easy. People go from being challenged, to videotaping their dousing to posting it to social media within 5 minutes. And this can be down from virtually anywhere (work, home, vacation, etc) with a smart phone.

Do the difficult work of making it easy on your customers.

How easy is your onboarding process as company? Where can you eliminate steps, simplify requirements and communication? 

12. It’s Quick. 

Most Ice Bucket Challenge videos are 20-40 seconds long. They include a short introduction with a “shout out” to whoever challenged them and then a new challenge to three more people. No lengthy build up. No one has to fast-forward the video. The actions comes quickly with a *big splash* and then curtains. We move on.

Don’t waste people’s time. Get to the point, fast.

Are you trying to say too much with your marketing? Does your marketing outlast the attention span of your audience? 

13. It’s Clear.

Nothing complex or confusing ever went viral. If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is anything, it’s clear. Pour Ice-water on your head or give to charity. Got it? It incorporates a mostly self-explanatory hashtag #ALSIceBucketChallenge which had led almost everyone to refer to the campaign with the exact same language. Anytime you get 1.1 Million people talking the same way about a campaign, this is remarkable in and of itself.

Pursue clarity.

How clear is your marketing messaging? Does everyone who encounters your marketing know exactly what you do and how you do it better? 

14. It’s Altruistic Narcissism. 

People are kind of into themselves, even if they’re slow to reveal this. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge wroks because it gives us who are generally reluctant to “Selfie” permission. After all, “It’s for a good cause” (*wink*). Marketers take note. People are looking for a good excuse to feature themselves in social media. And “Selfie” just got added to the Dictionary for good reason.  We live in an exhibitionist time, and this frequently used mode of self-expression is here to stay. 

Be a student of the times. Make good use of your anthropology. Observe how the river is flowing and then jump in. Preferably out in front of the surge.

Where do you go to observe consumer trends/behaviors? How is your marketing capitalizing on human nature as observed in the current cultural milieu? 

15. It’s Well Timed. 

August is the perfect time to launch an Ice Bucket Challenge. This timing optimizes the maximum number of people who will pour ice buckets of water on themselves. Some have argued this campaign started months ago. Either way the campaign didn’t take off until the heat of summer. So whether planned or not, August has been good to the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Make sure you launch campaigns at the most strategic time for optimal results.

When is the best time to launch your campaign? 

ALS ice bucket challenge

16. It’s Opportunistic. 

The ALS Association didn’t invent the 24 hour water challenge. Rather they observed a trend and capitalized on in. If you visit the “24 Hour Water Challenge” Facebook page you will find this trend emerging back in March. The ALS Association “news jacked” a campaign that was creative and put it to good use. Perhaps we should coin a new term “campaign jacking” to describe this effective new strategy.

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal” T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood

Some of the best campaigns come from hitching your wagon to an idea that’s time has come. Keep your eyes open. Be a student of what’s working. Look for potential.  

 Are you keeping your eyes open for trends that are working?

17. It’s Serendipity, Silly. 

The ALS Ice bucket challenge is not the work of a mastermind in a dark room. It’s not as if Seth Godin or some accomplished Ad agency consulted for the ALS Association. No one can stand up and “take credit” for this success.  While some credit Peter Frates, former Boston College Baseball player with ALS, but it’s much more complicated than that. Slate has written a piece confirming this. “Going Viral” continues to be an elusive art. It unpredictable and unmanufactured. You can explain what happened after the fact, Monday Morning Quarterback stuff (like this post). But no one orchestrates “viral.” One domino hits another and then something else happens which triggers 4 more things that launch something else until finally you are surprised with a “viral” success.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is not a formula. You can’t orchestrate “viral.” But those who observe and apply the basic principles will improve their marketing.

18. It’s Highly Effective. 

The numbers don’t lie. The ALS Association says 1.1 Million new donors have donated more than $53 Million dollars. That’s up 800% from the same time period in 2013. (UPDATE: As of Monday, Aug 26th the ALS Association is confirming they have raised $88.5 Million dollars)

At the end of the day, a marketing campaign is judged solely on the numbers. Creativity for creativity sake means nothing. You either sold more, raised more, signed-on more or you didn’t. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did. 



It’s Your Turn.

You can learn a lot from the best marketing success story in recent memory.

Do the hard work of translating these principles into effective action for your business.

Be vigilant and make your campaigns insanely clear and simple.

Rethink Referrals, Urgency, and Accountability. 

Look for trends.

Keep learning.



What did I miss? What else, in  your opinion, contributed to the overwhelming success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? (Share in the comments)


Consider giving to the ALS Association:   

 About the Author


Duke Revard is the VP of Sales & Marketing at Surety Solutions, LLC where he spreads the word about the innovative surety solutions available to local insurance agents and large brokers (Hint: We Automated Commercial Surety). Duke also advises local agents and small business owners on how to maximize their marketing efforts. His e-book The Definitive Guide to Surety Bond Marketing launched March 1, 2014 and is available as a Free Download.

LinkedIn: Duke Revard       

Google+: +Duke Revard      

Twitter: @BondsMadeEasy       

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