Ice Bucket Challenge triggers copycat campaigns

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Bill Gates participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge rasies awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Grehrig's disease.
Bill Gates participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge raises awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Grehrig’s disease.

The popularity of this summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge spread awareness for both nonprofit organizations and a new online marketing strategy.

BYU students have recently had their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts flooded with videos of friends dumping buckets of ice water over their own heads in order to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In these videos, the drenched individuals then select others who have to either accept the Ice Bucket Challenge or donate to the ALS Association.

Some BYU students found this challenge inspirational. Rebecca Barr, 20, a junior from Elk Grove, California, majoring in medical laboratory science, said she admired how quickly the campaign spread. Other students, however, were not as complimentary.

“I personally found it kind of annoying,” said Alex Ostergaard, 24, a junior from Midland, Michigan, majoring in mechanical engineering. “But I think it was a brilliant idea.”

Whether people loved it or hated it, most acknowledge that the Ice Bucket Challenge was a success. Individuals with the disease started the campaign, and it spread like wildfire. Celebrities ranging from Bill Gates to Lady Gaga have participated in the challenge. According to the ALS Association, the nonprofit organization had received $109.1 million in Ice Bucket Challenge donations as of Sept. 5.

So what does all this mean for the future of social media campaigns?

“Marketers are trying to find ways to piggyback or capitalize on the trend,” said social media consultant Janet Thaeler. “They are hoping to come up with their own twist.”

That seems to be the case. One recent example of this is India’s Rice Bucket Challenge, which involves giving rice to someone in need. Another, the “Lather Against Ebola” social media challenge, requires people to douse themselves with soapy water, with the purpose of emphasizing good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

Thaeler predicts that it will be difficult for others to replicate the success of the ALS campaign without looking like a marketing ploy.

“One reason the Ice Bucket Challenge worked so well is that it was grassroots,” Thaeler said. “It wasn’t made in a boardroom. It came from people’s hearts.”

These social media challenges are effective because they add elements of peer pressure and fun to a cause. Although copycats will probably not be as popular as the Ice Bucket Challenge itself, BYU students can most likely expect to see them popping up in their newsfeeds in the future.

“Social media is a great way to spread good stories,” Thaeler said. “That will never go away.”

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