What is virality worth? The monetary lesson of the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

By now, I’m sure you’ve already seen at least 35 of your nearest and dearest Facebook friends participate in the ALS #IceBucketChallenge. It’s ubiquitous: even Mark Zuckerberg has joined in on the freezing fad.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge aims to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) by challenging participants to either donate $100 or pour a bucket of freezing water over their heads. You know, for charity.

But what is participation worth? If your metric is awareness, we’ve got it in droves.

For many not-for-profit charities awareness is a fantastic thing, but funding is what keeps doors open and research progressing.

The Lovers – The Haters


I’ve found that most people are of two opinions about the challenge:

1) They’re proud to participate and spread the word about ALS. They’re doing good by sharing with their friends and giving the movement momentum.

2) These folks think this campaign is worthless and that pouring a bucket of water over your head does nothing for people who suffer from a debilitating disease.

I say: Both are correct.

In this case awareness and giving correlate and the #ALSIceBucketChallenge is quite possibly the first viral charitable GIVING campaign.

Impressions = $$$$ (in this case)

Social media is at the helm of this movement, but social pressure is at the helm of all of the giving – and there’s been a lot of giving!

Though the campaign asks you to freeze OR donate – the number of people participating in the challenge and the actual dollars raised tell a different story. People are sharing AND donating.

The ALS Association has reported $5.5 million in donations compared to $32,000 in the same period last year and awareness is on the rise.  “We are seeing 10 times the number of online donations every day,” Carol Hamilton, development director of the ALS Therapy Development Institute, told the Boston Herald. “We are seeing an incredible number of people who didn’t know much about ALS last week and who do today.” (The Boston Herald)

It Was Users Who Changed the Game

Those who participate get flack if donations are not mentioned in their posts. Now, new videos have started to change in content from OR to AND. It’s now socially required to give if you plan to join in the challenge.

The users participating in this campaign changed the rules. You hearing this?!

My delightful friend Steve demonstrating the proper way to participate: Post by Steve Dyer.

Why It’s Working

1) Personal publicity – the promise of your ‘15 minutes of fame’ is the currency of any great UGC (User Generated Content) campaign. Making people feel special is the best call to action of all. Really nothing plays to the ego more making a video of yourself for all of your friends to watch.

2) People are ASKING – Friends are requesting specific friends to take the challenge — makes you feel all bubbly inside. “They picked ME?! OK. I guess I’ll do it…”

3) “Stopping Power” – The MRY creative directors always emphasize ‘stopping power’ when choosing effective content for their next campaign strategy. This is the same. These videos are enough to pause your rapid newsfeed scroll and make you watch.

Did She Even Answer the Question?

So, what IS virality worth?

Apparently 5.5 million dollars.


Stopping Power + 15 Min. of Fame + Personal Ask = UGC + Peer Pressure = $$ Bills Ya’ll!


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