The #IceBucketChallenge: Four PR Ingredients to this Viral Campaign

When Pete Frates, my family friend and the original organizer of the Ice Bucket Challenge, was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, he told his family: “This is an opportunity for us to make a difference.”  Pete was only 27-years-old then, and diagnosed with a terminal disease, he called it “an opportunity.”

ALSToday Pete can no longer speak on his own, requires 24 hour care, and remains one the most positive people I know. This summer Pete started the ice bucket challenge with that same attitude, and his energy has been infectious.

Since July 29, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $53 million dollars to find a cure for ALS. It is trending on every social channel and filling every newsfeed, and it seems athletes, celebrities and friends far and wide have taken the challenge. So how did dumping a bucket of water over one’s head become such an effective movement?

As a public relations professional, I can only admire his plan to activate the world behind ALS and the PR strategy he ultimately used, maybe without even knowing it. Here are the four reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge is the viral phenomenon it is:

Video carries the campaign

Short videos are the communication vehicle for the challenge. From my hometown friends, to my favorite Bruins players, to Grandmother Kennedy and Bill Gates, every participant posts a recording of their icy shower on social media. The format of a quick video effectively draws attention, is free to watch, and takes one click to share. These social media channels are basic to the fabric of our daily communication, and are pulsing with the #icebucketchallenge.

Keep it simple

The challenge itself is simple. Fill a bucket with water, add ice, dump on head. The challenge is so successful in part because it is easy to complete, easy to reproduce and allows for creative interpretation. At the same time, the challenge is slightly out of the ordinary while remaining safe. It presents the participants with a certain level of momentary discomfort as a small tribute, which gives the gesture weight.

Call to action

Apart from being low-maintenance, the ice bucket challenge succeeds in that it is self-perpetuating. Each video calls upon others individually to do something. The challenge is inherently interactive and personal, resonating with everyone involved. The specific challenges declared in each video strike a balance between a little peer pressure, and the natural desire to help others. Whether it is to donate, continue to spread the challenge or both, participation is requested in every reiteration.

Know what success looks like

When Frates was diagnosed, he knew he would need to raise millions for any effective research or awareness of ALS. Over the years, Frates launched many successful campaigns that raised both awareness and funds for ALS, but this one was different. From day one Pete and “Team Frate Train” had one goal: to “Strike Out ALS.” Success for him would be for someone to Google ALS and wonder how someone could have died from something so easily cured. The awareness that the Ice Bucket Challenge brought has gone long beyond that simple wish for a Google search.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is specifically for ALS, but the personal involvement of each participant brings greater meaning. It is a toast to Pete Frates, and to the hope for a better future. I challenge each person who reads this to learn more about ALS and the Pete Frates #3 Fund, and I challenge you to take the Ice Bucket Challenge.

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