By Michelle Graff
Michelle-blogWhat is behind these tremendous year-over-year increases? The answer: the millions of people doused with thousands of gallons of ice water for the “Ice Bucket Challenge.”

The Ice Bucket Challenge started organically. It wasn’t a campaign organized by the ALS Association but rather just a viral dare, like the cinnamon challenge from days of yore (which is, by the way, dangerous and not recommended.)
Today show host Matt Lauer accepted the challenge from golfer Greg Norman live on the air July 15.

Originally for the challenge, which started among professional golfers, participants were called upon to make a videotape of themselves having a bucket full of ice water dumped on their heads. If they didn't accept the challenge, then they donated $100 to a charity of their choice.

After Lauer had his soaking on Today and donated money to the Hospice of Palm Beach County, two gentlemen stricken with ALS--one a former Boston College baseball player--decided to make it a fundraiser for the ALS Association.

And it’s worked.

Veteran marketer Ellen Fruchtman said what helped make the Ice Bucket Challenge a success for the ALS Association was that it began with a community that has a solid base and knows how to use social media, the Boston College baseball team. From BC athletics it spread to the university as a whole and then New England before going nationwide.

“It accomplished what they wanted it to: it’s brought ALS to the forefront,” Fruchtman said. “It’s been an awesome promotion.”

While a number of well-known public figures have taken the challenge since Lauer, including Bill Gates and Taylor Swift, my favorite so far came courtesy of former Steelers linebacker James Harrison who took it to another level. He immersed his entire body in a tub that, he said, was filled with 14 bags of ice.

I don’t normally spend too much time on Facebook but did get lured in by various other ice bucket challenge videos on Sunday afternoon, and I am apparently not alone.

Though I wasn’t able to get a total social media tally from the ALS Association Monday, this story by The New York Times, which was its website’s seventh most-emailed as of Monday afternoon, said the campaign has led to the sharing of more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook and some 2.2 million mentions on Twitter.

These numbers, not to mention the amount of money raised from it, are ones that any organization, nonprofit or not, would like to replicate with their own social media campaign.

So, what made the Ice Bucket Challenge a success, and what can retailers learn from it? Here are three things.

Keep it simple and easy. Do you have running water, some method of freezing it and a bucket? Then you too can participate in the ice bucket challenge. As Fruchtman points out, there are no barriers to entry, virtually no rules--other than the ALS Association hopes you donate--and it is something people of all ages can do that’s not extremely time consuming.

Also it has an easy-to-remember hashtag: #IceBucketChallenge.

In other words, it’s simple. “And that’s what makes the best (campaigns),” Fruchtman says.

Make it fun and/or funny. Earlier this year, I wrote this story on a Pennsylvania jewelry store owner after he had a one-on-one lesson on media buying. It didn’t make the cut for the story, but I remember the retailer telling me that his media buying consultant stressed the importance of using humor. Some of the most memorable ads, after all, are the funny ones.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is just that. Most would agree that it is amusing to watch others' reactions after getting doused with a liquid that’s about 30 degrees. People remember funny, and they’ll share it. Who doesn’t need a laugh these days?

Consider the timing. Though it’s been an unseasonably mild August in some parts of the country, it’s still among the hottest months of the year. The ice bucket challenge would have, perhaps, gotten less love had it been introduced in say, January or February, when people in many regions would be reticent to dump freezing-cold water over themselves. Or would they?

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