Why the ice bucket challenge proved such a runaway success — Catherine Tucker

MIT Sloan Professor Catherine Tucker

MIT Sloan Professor Catherine Tucker

From Yahoo! Tech

As social media sensations go, this one had it all: Emotion, social currency, money, and a sense of derring-do. It involved your social network and mine, but also celebrities, professional athletes, and even a former president. It was, on one level, silly and tapped into our deep-seated can’t-look-away tendencies, but it was also on a deeper level inspirational and supported a worthy cause.

I am referring, of course, to this summer’s social media phenomenon: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

For the uninitiated, the Ice Bucket Challenge involves dumping a pail of cold water over your head, posting photographic evidence of the pour on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and then challenging friends to do the same within 24 hours or give $100 to A myotrophic l ateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Many did both.

As a fundraiser, the Ice Bucket Challenge continues to be, in the words of Forbes magazine, a “philanthropic blockbuster.” Not only has it raised more than $100 million for ALS, the progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, but it has also heightened awareness for a disease that many Americans knew little about.

The challenge has been such a success that every professional fundraiser in America is no doubt thinking: “How can we start our own Ice Bucket Challenge?”

Trying to imitate the Ice Bucket Challenge, though, is a mistake. A winning social media campaign is not about tweaking an existing idea; it’s about coming up with something colossally original. And a bucket-esque challenge that requires participants to do something distasteful but that won’t kill them — drinking a bottle of vinegar water, say — isn’t going to cut it. Perhaps the first onslaught of copycats might be able to piggyback on the idea — the Rice Bucket Challenge, where participants donate a bucket of rice to someone in need and click a picture of it to share online, got some brief attention in India because of its cutesy name — but on the whole, marketing mimicry is doomed for failure.

Read the full post at Yahoo! Tech

Catherine Tucker is the Mark Hyman Jr. Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Management Science at MIT Sloan.

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