What the ALS Challenge Can Teach Us About Engagement Marketing


As of August 31, the ALS ice bucket challenge has raised more than $94 million –all in the matter of about a month. If you’ve got a social media page, you’ve most likely seen videos of your family, friends, and co-workers participating in the challenge. Perhaps you’ve even been nominated and were faced with the daunting prospect of pouring a bucket of freezing water on yourself or donating to the ALS fund–or both.

While there’s no denying that the ice bucket challenge has worked wonders in terms of funding to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, it’s also interesting to note the means by which the message of these videos has spread through social media like wildfire. In fact, upon closer examination, the success of the ice bucket challenge can teach businesses and marketing experts a great deal about the power of engagement marketing.

The Ice Bucket Challenge & Engagement Marketing

Engagement marketing–an advertising method in which the focus is on getting one’s target audience involved in the campaign rather than seeing audience members as passive receivers of information–is certainly at play in the ALS ice bucket challenge. And in a lot of ways, the marketing of this campaign was truly a genius move.

How is this form of marketing at play in the ice bucket challenge? Well, notice that the entire campaign is self-perpetuated; there weren’t any paid advertisements on social media sites, television, or radio encouraging people to participate in the challenge.

Instead, the campaign relied on active engagement from its audience; many people were inspired by the first few ice bucket challenge videos and began recording their own, posting them on social media pages like Facebook and Twitter, and nominating their friends and family members to do the same.

Lessons Learned in Social Media Marketing

The ALS ice bucket challenge has also drastically changed the way people tend to see social media marketing. In fact, there are a few lessons that all marketers can learn from the challenge:

  • Timing is key. The ice bucket challenge debuted during the hot summer months. It probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful if done during the frigid months of winter.
  • Video is powerful. One of the main reasons the challenge was so successful is because it went viral. Because watching video is a shared experience, it has a much bigger chance of being “shared” and going viral than a photo or article.
  • You’ve got to have fun with it. For a marketing campaign to be successful, the audience has to want to participate in it.

The ALS ice challenge became fun for its audience and thus took on a life of its own. This example stands to show that simply “feeding” information to an audience in the hopes that they’ll listen isn’t enough. Businesses and marketers that want to truly be successful in any advertising campaign need to treat audiences as the powerful force that they are. That is the power of engagement marketing.

Karen Leonard
September 6, 2014

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