During the summer of 2014, millions of otherwise sane people decided to throw buckets of ice cold water over themselves and video it to share on YouTube.


This was perhaps one of the world’s most successful viral marketing campaigns, ever, and it raised over $100 million for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

First of all it was a challenge – and as humans we love a challenge. There’s something about being called out by someone else that makes us want to prove something. Not just to the rest of the world, but to ourselves.

And it was for charity – so when called upon to participate, it made it just that much more difficult to refuse – after all it was only a simple thing to do – throw some ice water over yourself – how heartless could you be if you refused to do something simple like that?

And then, there was the actual viral growth that was inbuilt within the “rules” of the challenge… each nominee had to name 3 others and publicly state their names on the video – so the exponential growth of the campaign was already there when it was shared.

People swarmed to the videos, liking, up voting and sharing – and it became even more of a phenomenon when celebrities like Matt Damon became involved and filmed themselves throwing cold water over themselves.

While there are multiple, interwoven aspects to the viral nature of the challenge videos, one aspect was probably the most influential: the idea was simple.

Everyone could understand within seconds what it was they were supposed to do:

  • throw ice cold water over themselves while filming it
  • nominate 3 friends
  • share the video on social media

and it was all for a good cause. Anyone who didn’t want to take the water was asked to donate money to the charity.

The #icebucketchallenge hashtag peaked over the month of August that year, before it fell off and disappeared – and that’s a prime example of another aspect of viral marketing: the bacteria eventually grows to such a number that it can’t survive and eventually it dies.

Viral marketing campaigns need to take it into consideration that their CTAs need to be explicitly clear if they are to achieve the desired goals before the inevitable drop off in numbers so that follow up marketing can build on the initial numbers attained.

The Ice Bucket Viral Challenge
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