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14 Aug 2014

The Scene: Freezing ALS With Viral Videos

“Cause Marketing” is the topic for our first breakfast of the new MarCom year.
That got me thinking about some other “Cause Marketing” campaigns I’ve come across, and one in particular.
Recently, the Internet has been flooded with videos of folks dumping ice cold buckets of water on themselves. They’re doing this to raise awareness for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the #IceBucketChallenge.
Here’s how it apparently started:
Pete Frates was a baseball player at Boston College before he was diagnosed with ALS. Less than a month ago, he posted this message on Facebook:

The idea was to challenge folks in a video to dump ice water on themselves. If they didn’t accept the challenge within 24 hours, they had to donate money toward finding a cure for ALS. Of course, human beings with a heart would donate whether they met the 24-hour rule or not, as the whole 24-hour rule is a gimmick and the real fun is watching folks dump ice water on themselves, which grabs the attention of the greater public.
Since it is 2014, this thing spread via the Internet, and since Pete Frates was an athlete, other athletes got on board, creating a pay-it-forward trend.
So what did this viral sensation have going for it? Here’s what comes to my mind, in no particular order:
- A Well-Known Cause
- Creativity
- Influencers

So how can your company or organization use the three attributes listed above for your next cause marketing campaign?
A Well-Known Issue
ALS is a well-known disease, and the public is made even more aware these days because of the possible link between head trauma and ALS. Locally, this disease is well-known because Steve Gleason, a former Gonzaga Prep and Washington State University football player, suffers from the disease. 
Gleason, by the way, got in on the act too.…naked:

Ice Bucket Challenge from Team Gleason on Vimeo.

Just because your issue or cause may not be well known, that doesn’t mean you can’t catch people’s attention because you can still be creative. Who doesn’t laugh when seeing a video of someone pouring a freezing cold bucket of water on themselves? When famous people do it (e.g. athletes), it’s even better. The folks in the videos are seemingly trying to one-up each other as well, which leads to more and more likes, shares, retweets, whatever. What was once a simple video of someone outside a pool or on a dock pouring water on themselves morphed into someone paying for a helicopter to dump glacier water on them while wearing a Speedo. Seriously:

The aspect of challenging others is also creative. Once challenged, you have to participate. If you declined, hoo-boy, that’d make you look terrible.
Putting your cause in front of as many eyeballs is essential, obviously. With social media, “followers” and “likes” are important. Who among us has the most “followers” and “likes”? Famous people! Once pro athletes began taking the challenge, more people saw what was going on and wouldn’t you know it, donations to the ALS Association rose to $1.35 million from July 29 to Aug. 11. The same time last year? Donations numbered $22,000. Methinks these fun viral videos are working.
Obviously, not all organizations can connect with famous people that easily. Focus on the influencers in your industry that you think would be good stewards of your message and cause.