Can charities learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge? (Guest Writer)

In this guest post, Matt Moorut, Digital Marketing Executive at Tech Trust, discusses why the Ice Bucket Challenge has been so successful and what elements make a great viral campaign.

| 1st Sep 14

In this guest post, Matt Moorut, Digital Marketing Executive at Tech Trust, discusses why the Ice Bucket Challenge has been so successful and what elements make a great viral campaign. 

If you’ve been anywhere near social media or the news recently, the chances are that you know about the ice bucket challenge. If you have somehow missed it, the ice bucket challenge is the latest, truly viral charity campaign (and where have you been?).

Like anything viral, be it a Korean man dancing in sunglasses or a video of a dog chasing deer in a park, there is, of course, an element of luck to the whole thing. Similarly to Cancer Research UK’s successes with the #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign, the ice bucket challenge started off organically, rather than in a marketing meeting somewhere. So can we really learn anything from it?

The answer is ‘yes’. While it is (unfortunately) impossible to learn how to make a viral campaign, both of these examples clearly fit trends of successful charity campaigns:


Both the #NoMakeUpSelfie and the ice bucket challenge are inherently shareable campaigns, designed to do well on social media.

Though some may not like the comparison, the ice bucket challenge is similar to the Neknomination challenge that went viral in the UK earlier this year, in that both conclude by peer-pressuring friends into participation. Thankfully, the comparison ends there!

Regardless, this shareability has been crucial to its success. It’s the reason the ice bucket challenge spread so quickly from golfers on to Lou Gherig’s disease sufferers on to athletes to politicians to business leaders to celebrities in America, and then on to us in the UK.

This really is key to any successful, modern campaign  – if it’s not designed in a way that makes it easy for people to tell their friends, it’s unlikely to do well online. This doesn’t mean that your campaigns have to involve naming friends who should participate, rather it can just be a case of having easily accessible sharing buttons for images or videos on social media. Whatever you do, make it shareable!


Both campaigns are prime examples of gamification in action. Gamifying the process of raising awareness gives people a reason to get involved when they may not have been otherwise.

This is particularly evident with the ice bucket challenge in America. As they have since said, it had previously been challenging for the ALS Association to raise funds for Lou Gherig’s disease because relatively few people had heard of it. And yet, since the campaign took off, they’ve not only raised awareness, but also well over $10m.

There have been very successful fundraising efforts in recent years that haven’t involved gamification, like those of Stephen Sutton as a recent example, so you couldn’t say it’s essential to gamify every campaign. Still, if none of your fundraising efforts feature an element of fun, it can be difficult to achieve this level of success.


Part of the joy of the ice bucket challenge, like the #NoMakeUpSelfie, is that pretty much anyone can participate, regardless of their background. It helps to add to the fact that people really do want to participate.

This point links to gamification, as people are far more likely to get involved. But having a genuinely fun campaign goes further. Both campaigns offer people a chance to show off online in the name of a good cause with very little effort (who could refuse that?). This ‘fun’ element helped garner involvement from celebrities, which in turn, encouraged more people in the general public to participate.


Finally, both campaigns are good examples of what charities can achieve if they’re really on the ball.

While the ALS Association in America benefitted from organic support and were the subject of donations thanks to the public rather than their own efforts, this wasn’t the case in the UK, where Macmillan Cancer Support have taken the mantle.

In the UK, where Lou Gherig’s Disease is even less common than in the US, Macmillan Cancer Support became involved after Sir Richard Branson recommended that they use the challenge’s publicity for their own ends. They quickly took this invitation to social media and began really driving the challenge, while also making it very, very easy to make a small (£3) donation on their site.

This is very similar to how Cancer Research UK managed to exploit the fact that people began associating the #NoMakeUpSelfie to them after the Oscars last year, gaining a huge boost to their income thanks to it.

As I said earlier, it’s impossible to design a viral campaign. That said, if you’re proactive and tune in to trends online, you give yourself a much better chance of riding the wave if and when the opportunity presents itself.