After our class on managing virality a few weeks ago, I tried to think of the most viral video I had viewed in the past few years. Of course I had seen the JK wedding video, but my memory was drawing a blank when trying to recall others that had a similar widespread impact. And then it hit me. It wasn’t an individual video, more of a campaign. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! I’m guessing everyone in this class has at least heard about this if they didn’t participate in it. The ice bucket challenge swept the nation in 2014 and was particularly meaningful to me since it all started right here at Boston College when our baseball program decided to rally around a former captain, Pete Frates.
Pete was diagnosed with ALS in March of 2012 at the age of 27. I first met Pete about 6 weeks later when I was an Athletics intern working with the baseball program. At that point, he already had a ridiculously positive outlook on his diagnosis and what he would do with his life from that point forward. He saw it as an opportunity to give a relatively unknown, but fatal disease a platform for awareness. Pete decided he would become the face of ALS and do everything in his power to bring it to the forefront of medical research. Although Pete played baseball at BC and played a bit in the minor leagues following graduation, he was not a MLB player and did not have the network of rich, powerful people to call in favors. What he did have was the heart and soul of Boston College and a fierce determination to bring awareness to his cause.
Over the next two years, Pete, his family, and BC baseball were dedicated to helping Pete in his battle against ALS. They held small-scale fundraisers, got the Red Sox involved through the relationship between BC and the Fenway Sports Group, and started to gain some local and regional attention. Then in the summer of 2014, everything changed. They decided to take to social media with a call-to-action campaign to attract large-scale involvement. The idea for the ice bucket challenge was actually not unique, it was borrowed from another cause in college athletics, the Play for Kay campaign among women’s basketball. While they started the ice bucket challenge after the end of the 2013-14 women’s basketball season, it really only gained traction within their sport. Our baseball coaches decided that this was a campaign with great potential and decided to adopt the idea for ALS awareness in the early summer of 2014.
The idea was simple: dump a bucket full of ice water over your head, film it and post to social media, and challenge 3 friends to do the same within 24 hours or donate $100. By August, the campaign went viral. It started with BC Athletics programs challenging alums in professional sports (Matt Ryan, Doug Flutie, Luke Kuechly. Then expanded to other notable people with a BC connection including Apple CMO Phil Schiller. The professional athletes tapped into their networks expanding throughout all of the major sports as far as LeBron James, Big Papi, and Aaron Rodgers and eventually made its way some of the biggest names and media programs in the country including Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Timberlake, the Voice cast and Good Morning America. The Ice Bucket Challenge broke media barriers as traditional and social media amplified each other to gain maximum attention. People were even doing it at their own weddings! And then groups got competitive and decided to up the ante by making their ice buckets bigger and bigger using dump trucks, Zambonis, and even one helicopter.
So it is pretty clear to see that the campaign went viral. But, was it successful? Remember that Pete Frates’ main goal was to raise awareness for ALS, and secondary goal was to increase funding for medical research. Let’s take a look at the results:
- ALS was the #1 searched for “What is _____?” on Google in 2014
- 17 million people participated in the challenge
- 5 million people donated to the ALS Association
- Over $115 million was raised in just 6 weeks
And here’s a look at how that money was used:
While there is still a long way to go in the fight against ALS, this campaign goes to show the power of utilizing social media networks to bring attention to meaningful causes. Most people don’t know that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has become an annual campaign that takes place every August, but it has never come close to the impact it had in 2014. This is likely because it was something new and fun at the time for millions of people to participate in. Now the challenge is to figure out what’s next. What will the next major viral campaign be and how can it have a similar impact? What will be the next #viralchallenge?