The 3 Major Marketing Takeaways from the Ice Bucket Challenge

By Matt Weltz | Aug 20, 2014
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Ice Bucket ChallengeAs any American with a social media account knows, the ice bucket challenge to raise money to cure ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has swept the nation. From LeBron James, to Bill Gates, to Oprah, the challenge has received celebrity endorsements that would normally cost many millions of dollars. While some have deemed the awareness campaign silly, the results show the efforts to be a significant financial success for ALS Charities. A recent Forbes article by Matthew Herper goes into greater detail on the numerous benefits of the challenge, but specifically from a financial perspective it says, “… the ALS Association has since said that it has raised $15.6 million as a result of the challenge, nine times what it normally raises in the same time frame. Another ALS charity, Project ALS, told the Washington Post that its donations were 50 times normal. ALS TDI, another ALS charity, says that has [sic] raised $580,000 since the beginning of August, 10 times what it normally receives.” The level of attention these charities are receiving now has been a huge financial boost – and what’s more, it’s costing them virtually nothing.

Looking at the ice bucket challenge as a marketer, it is clear to see the incredible success of this campaign has had in terms of reach, branding, and profitability (and all for a great cause). So what marketing guru came up with this revolutionary strategy? According to the Wall Street Journal, the ice bucket challenge actually, “got its start among golfers as a way to support pet charities.” It appears that the challenge’s focus quickly shifted to ALS by a family directly affected by the disease and then went viral. Despite the humble starts of these efforts, there are many lessons to be learned from its success.

Here is a list of the 3 biggest marketing takeaways from the ice bucket challenge:

Awareness has Value

As ROI-driven marketers, it can be difficult at times to justify spending a fortune on branding when it may be hard to attribute sales to those campaigns. However, there is evidence to support that keeping your brand on people’s minds can lead to dramatic increases in revenue. The success in raising awareness for ALS has had an extremely positive effect on the bottom lines of ALS charities. According to Carrie Munk, a spokesperson for ALS, “even if they (challenge participants) didn’t donate, they’re still raising awareness about ALS, which is invaluable considering last week only 50 percent of the public had even heard of ALS. When people look back on the Ice Bucket Challenge years from now, I’m pretty confident it will be seen as the ‘game changer’ in the fight against this disease.”

People won’t donate to fight a disease they have never heard of and, in the same regard, they won’t’ buy a product they don’t know exists. Educating people about your brand is essential to the success of any new product, rebrand, or new company. In addition, well known brands also rely on branding to keep their products at the top of consumers’ minds. Companies like Coca-Cola spend billions to remind their customers that their product is still as good as ever. For these reasons, it is important to remember not to overlook branding when preparing your budgets and strategies.

Think Outside of the Box to Standout

As the digital marketing world matures, the presence of ads in searches for everything from waffle irons to jet skis are becoming common place. As the marketplace gets more and more crowded, it is important to make your ads stand out. We shouldn’t avoid new creative ideas with the potential for success just because there is also a chance they will fail. While many would not have thought getting people to dump ice water on their heads was a surefire way to earn millions in revenue, it’s that type of creative thinking that can help your brand standout and help you exceed your ROI goals.

Twitter has had some great examples recently of unconventional techniques finding success. While some companies spent millions of dollars in advertising at the Grammys, the most talked about company was Arby’s. What’s more is that they didn’t have to spend a penny to do it. For those unaware, Arby’s tweeted at rapper Pharrell Williams, who was wearing a large cowboy-esque hat at the Grammys, the following tweet:

Arby's Tweets Pharrell

Pharrell's Hat and Arbys

This tweet reached hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people and was highly discussed in various media outlets the next day. Had they simply tweeted something conventional and frankly boring about roast beef, they would not have received the exceptional level of free publicity that they did. By being spontaneous and taking a chance on a creative idea that could have failed, they ended up helping themselves tremendously.

Get your Customers Involved

People (namely your customers) are willing to participate in your brand awareness campaigns for free by sharing posts, commenting, and even word of mouth if you give them an incentive. It might not seem obvious at first, but the ice bucket challenge benefits participants in a multitude of ways. Participants get to be part of a charitable cause, challenge their friends to pour icy water on their heads, and gain fleeting Facebook newsfeed celebrity status. It seems that all the major brands are using promotions and giveaways in return for page likes, post shares, and other general social media interactions. These efforts help boost brand awareness, customer loyalty, and brand opinions. On top of that, the cost of these giveaways and promotions are often quite low, giving them the potential to be very ROI positive.

The ice bucket challenge has swept the nation and taught us many lessons. Most importantly, that ALS is a horrifying disease that we can help to fight (if you would like to donate, you can do so here). It also has been one of the most successful marketing campaigns in recent memory. The three major takeaways are that awareness has value, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box, and try to get your customers involved especially when it comes to social media. Hopefully, we can take these lessons to heart to make us better marketers in a better world.

What marketing lessons did you learn from the ice bucket challenge? Comment below or tweet me @El_Mattador101.

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