One bucket + one bag of ice = more than $70 million in donations and counting. By now, you must know that I am talking about the viral sensation that is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. At a time when social media dominates the web and trending topics are a dime a dozen, somehow a campaign to raise awareness about one of today’s most devastating diseases rose above the rest.
I have been carefully watching this phenomenon because I have a personal relationship with ALS. Four years ago, my father, who was in otherwise perfect health, started to feel like things were “a bit off.” After many trips to the doctor and numerous tests we got the dreaded news that it was, indeed, ALS. When I found out, I had never heard of the disease and quickly learned just how devastating it is.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. This causes difficulty in basic motor functions leading to gradual paralysis that ultimately kills the patient. ALS has no cure, and the few treatments that are currently available do little to slow its progression.
I believe that every great campaign needs a great champion, and the champion of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is Peter Frates. Frates, a star baseball player at Boston College, was diagnosed with ALS at age 27. At 29, Pete is completely wheelchair bound, no longer has the ability to speak, and receives nutrients strictly through a feeding tube. The popular hashtag #StrikeOutALS that accompanies many of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge social media posts was created by Frates to tie the baseball community into the fight against ALS. ALS is also commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gehrig, a Hall of Fame baseball player, was killed by the disease in 1941 at age 37.
In the inaugural ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Frates challenged his family and friends with 24 hours to either dump a bucket of ice water over their heads or donate $100 to ALS research. The success of this campaign is not only due to its connection to a great cause, but also because of its perfect simplicity. From a viral campaign point of view, the key is the 24-hour time limit. Coupled with a bit of playful peer pressure when those who complete the challenge nominate, via a simple “tag” on multiple social media channels, the next round of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge partakers, the campaign is easy to execute and has a natural momentum.
There has been some backlash regarding the “dump or donate” terms of the challenge, and I would like to address that criticism. First, the point is to, above all, raise awareness. This has been the most meaningful success of this campaign to my family. We no longer feel like we are alone in fighting this rare, incurable disease. Second, people like the recognition of doing something for a good cause. That should be encouraged, whether they choose to dump or to donate. Third, as a public relations professional, I know how difficult it can be to grab the attention of an audience through social media as they are scrolling through hundreds of stories in a newsfeed. I asked myself, would I be more likely to stop and read a post about someone who just donated $100 to ALS, or a video of them dumping a big, cold bucket of ice water on his head? The answer was pretty clear. Plus, this campaign has also brought results in the form of cold, hard cash –millions of dollars of it.
As of Sunday, August 24, The ALS Association has received $70.2 million in donations compared to $2.5 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 24). These donations have come from both existing and 1.3 million new donors. Google trends shows that since the start of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the appearance of “ALS” in headlines in the U.S. has increased tenfold. Though this particular campaign surely can’t go on forever, the impact of it will last for a very long time.
Ultimately, after this incredible month of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I am sure of three things. One, people who had no prior knowledge are finally talking about this debilitating and incurable disease; two, people are donating to the cause; and finally, my family and I, and I am certain any family with a loved one currently battling ALS, no longer feel alone but rather invigorated in the fight against this disease.
Molly completed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on August 10th, watch it here.