What I Learned From Getting Suckered Into Completing The ALSA.org #ICeBucketChallenge

A couple of days ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I had been called out by a tech journalist, friend and quintessential Twitter troll, Andrew Yew, to do the ALS #IceBucketChallenge, along with another tech journalist, Vernon Chan.


 (Photo credit: Vernon Chan)

For the uninitiated, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge basically involves dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. (Now, as with all things there will be those who have a different opinion, which I fully respect. In our case, we felt that this message from a family coping with ALS helped us decide to move forward in our support for this initiative)

The three of us decided to take up the challenge – but, inspired by the genius that is Charlie Sheen, we added a twist. We asked for donation pledges a minimum of RM100 per bucket, hoping to raise at least RM1,000 for ALSA.

(No) Thanks to some very generous friends from my end (who clearly felt that it was money well spent to see me suffer) as well as my neurotic overachieving personality, I (unfortunately) managed to raise RM800 – which meant I had to douse myself with eight buckets of ice water.

Altogether, it was all in good fun. Along with our personal contributions, we successfully completed the challenge raised a combined total up to RM1,800, surpassing our intended goal!

So, for your viewing pleasure, here’s my #IceBucketChallenge video:

What I learned

Now, being the marketing geek that I am, here are several reasons why I think the ALS Ice Bucket Challenged worked the way it did – so much that it even crossed over to having Asian celebrities, politicians, and industry captains participating.

1) It was fun

Whether you were watching the video or participating in the challenge, it was a pretty fun experience (unless you have to pour eight buckets!). Never underestimate the value of simple fun to get that buy in – whether it’s to share a video, participate in the activity or to even be challenged to donate to a good cause. And, by the way, it needs to be genuinely “fun” for the participants – and just for the brand/organization.

2) It was easy

The idea was very simple: Dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate to Alsa.org, then nominate three others to do the same, all via video. Easy to do, easy to communicate, easy to pass on the challenge. Too much “viral” campaigns have complicated T&Cs (the infamous “terms and conditions apply”) that more time is spent trying to explain the activity and its expected outcome, than actually participating in the initiative itself. Don’t let legalese and marketing-speak crowd out beautiful simplicity.

3) It was involving

The Ice Bucket Challenge worked because it involved people nominating people – which is essentially your good ol’ “Word Of Mouth” marketing at work. The transmission by participation meant that the people involved would be responsible for getting others involved – basically serving as “sneezers” spreading an ideavirus” (to borrow Seth Godin’s parlance). Another thing to note: while the attention to the campaign was greatly accelerated globally when big names got involved, what truly got people participating was the direct challenge from someone they knew. While it mattered that the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were lending their names to this great initiative, it was the “people nominating people” bit that helped the movement gain traction and become that elusive “viral campaign” that many aspire towards.

In the end, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is clearly going to be this year’s marketing, digital and social media case study. Plenty of people are already starting to analyze the campaign and attempt to reverse engineer it.

In fact, Samsung even attempted to capitalize on it…

… and, in board rooms across the world, marketing teams are hoping to dream up the next “Ice Bucket Challenge” for their brands and organizations:

Still, say what you will, though, the campaign worked. The latest update from Alsa.org (as of this writing) shows that the campaign has raised a staggering US$70.2 million.

LG World’s Slimmest TV Viral Video

This has been making its rounds via social networking sites… The video is purportedly security camera footage taken from a consumer electronics store. In the footage, we see one particular individual behaving oddly, fully facing the camera at all times.

It is only when the individual exits the building do we realize the “punchline” of the video – with the brand and advertising message sitting quietly in full view of the viewer.

What’s pretty amazing is the concept and execution of the video – it certainly had a lot of people fooled into thinking that this was actual security camera footage and not a commercial of any sort. Not only that, the way it was uploaded to YouTube – from the title of the video (text in low caps – “smart thief caught on cam”) to the description of the video (“Take a look what this guy did in broad daylight!”)… everything was done to make it look as authentic as possible without a hint of marketing messaging. Even the brand placement and advertising message was something a lot of people missed… which, to me, makes this even more powerful.

Sometimes, less is more… and “quiet” can be pretty “loud”. If you check out the video on YouTube, it has already garnered more than 2.4 million views since it was posted (under what appears to be a pseudonymous account) on 28 Dec 2011 (as of this posting today – less than a month since the original posting date).

The Christmas Conspiracy: Spending Less = Giving More

Rather glad to see that Advent Conspiracy that I wrote about earlier is making enough of an impact to warrant an article in Forbes no less! Apart from the fact that it’s a great cause to consider adopting and advocating, this article also points to some fantastic insights from a marketing perspective.

Year one of AC began by raising $500,000 and today that number has grown to several million dollars.  They’re now building awareness of the effort and it has reached global proportions engaging thousands of churches and people around the world.

How did they build awareness for the cause?  The biggest driver was the viral AC video created in 2008 that has been viewed in the neighborhood of 3 million times and passed around the world via Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and other social networks.  It’s beautifully done, engaging, and hits that emotional trigger that all good marketing communication delivers.  There are books, DVD’s, brochures, videos, press kits all intended and activated to spread the word about the movement…while utilizing the holiday season as the time to reconsider how all of us spend our time and money.   They have some high profile advocates like Whoopie Goldberg who talked about it last year during an episode of “The View”, a popular Christian rock group named Robby Seay Band, NY Times best selling author Donald Miller, Luis Palau…who’s ministry has engaged over 1 billion people through evangelistic events and media, best selling author of “Purpose Driven Life” Rick Warren, and even Albert Pujols have all promoted the Advent Conspiracy movement and Living Water International.

What’s also pretty amazing about the success of this movement and the quality of the creative is that most of the marketing materials have been generated out of a small creative team on staff at a church called The Crossing in St. Louis led by lead pastor Greg Holder and creative director Tony Biaggne.  When you look at the strategy of the communication, the creative treatment and quality of the overall product, you would think that a large agency had worked on this but that’s not the case.

Challenges: Like all not for profit initiatives, the Advent Conspiracy movement and Living Water International need sustained donations and financial support…which is a big challenge.  People get caught up in “fad giving”.  In other words, what’s the hot cause of the year to be involved with?  Is it Haiti relief efforts? Japan Tsunami relief efforts? AIDS research?  Others?  Part of the problem in general is that people want to be charitable and they end up giving small fragmented donations that I’m certain are helpful but tend to be an inch deep and a mile wide. If focused against one initiative like solving the world’s water crisis, those donations might quite possibly be more effective.

During a 60 minutes segment a couple weeks ago, there was a story on Warren Buffett and his succession plans for Berkshire Hathaway that involve his farmer and charitable philanthropist son, Howard Buffett.  As part of that segment they talked about the $31 billion that Warren Buffett has pledged to Bill and Melinda Gates as part of The Gates Foundation effort.   Just for grins, consider this:  What if Mr. Buffett were to pledge $20 billion to Living Water International or another of the many worthy foundations working to solve the global water crisis?  That kind of focus could possibly solve the problem.  Totally solve it!  Keep in mind, this is no easy task.  It would take time to scale an effort like this as well as requiring sustained levels of investments in equipment and manpower to make this a reality but nonetheless, it’s a very real possibility.  Solving this crisis also solves other problems like education, poverty, crime and many other issues brought on by the root cause of inadequate access to clean water.  So let’s dream for a moment and say that Mr. Buffett actually donated $20 billion towards solving the global water crisis, there would still be another $11 billion left over to donate to the Gates Foundation, which ain’t chump change.  I’m certainly not trying to diminish the incredible generosity of Warren  Buffett or The Gates Foundation.  I’m just suggesting that all charitable giving ends up being more powerful when it’s laser guided to a specific target versus shotgun giving.  Just a thought.

Other Challenges: As year five of Advent Conspiracy’s efforts approach, keeping the movement fresh and finding ways to extend the idea beyond the holiday season and making it more of a year-round mindset is a focus for the AC team and a potential avenue for growth.

While I’m certain big business (particularly large retailers and most consumer durables) won’t like the notion of “Spend Less” during Christmas, one of the things Living Water International could use is a large corporate partner.  Someone like, for example, British Petroleum (who arguably can use some good press after the oil spill in the gulf), and who has access and expertise in drilling.  Perhaps another multinational corporation that does business in third world countries and has access to engineering as well as a thick checkbook to drive their CSR efforts. Getting caught doing good by helping solve the water crisis could be an excellent platform for the right company looking to find the right cause to champion.

Sometimes in order to serve a selfless need, one needs to begin with serving a selfish need.  So if you listen to the folks at Advent Conspiracy and Living Water International, they would say this:  Instead of shop, shop, shop, credit cards, traffic jams, useless gifts, debt, chaos, etc., etc.  Why not try slowing down, reflecting upon the meaning of the season and consider that all this hyper commercialism isn’t the best way to celebrate and show people that we care.   Maybe with a different approach, a focused effort and an examination of what we’re really accomplishing every December, people could bring about a lot of positive change in their own lives as well as the lives of those so unfortunate that they don’t even have something all of us in this country take for granted every day, clean water.  Worship fully, spend less, give more, love all…and in the process save a billion lives.  Makes a lot of sense to me.

Advent Conspiracy 2011

Advent Conspiracy is something I support – since hearing about it several years ago. The reason why I’m sharing it here (besides bringing attention to a great movement) is also because it’s a great example of an important message, powerfully communicated in a very resonating way.

Some of the things I like:

  • The title (“Advent Conspiracy” – can you imagine that being said out loud from the pulpit of a church?);
  • The infographics demonstrating how much we spend vs. how much is needed to solve one of the most important needs in the world;
  • The simple, straightforward call-to-action
  • All of this contributes to its sheer virability

I hope that you will join me in entering the story of the Advent Conspiracy this holiday season!

The Top 10 Viral Ads Of All Time (Via AdAge)

I just read Advertising Age’s feature on the Top 10 viral ads of all time. Several takeaways for me here:

  • It’s hard to imagine that viral videos came on just a little over five years ago! It seems like a lifetime in internet-time! Back then, YouTube was all about home videos featuring pet tricks, backyard stunts, children videos and such. Today, you see participation by huge brands launching entire campaigns on what is today a very viable advertising channel/medium.
  • Good viral videos are those that entertain! Which makes sense – if you consider the demographics and psychographics of internet (and especially YouTube) audiences. Besides that, with digital and social media now – the ability to “pass it on” has increased exponentially. So, if it’s entertaining, it will spread.
  • To be entertaining – you don’t necessarily need to be a big brand with deep pockets or hire a hotshot creative agency. You need great content that entertains… easier said than done (even for big brands with deep pockets or hotshot creative agencies!). Case in point:

The No. 1 video advertiser of all time is Blendtec, whose “Will It Blend” series has been around in the same form for four years, accumulating 134.2 million views. The key? The brand found what works and stuck with it. Each of the more than 120 original clips has the same kitschy music, the same tagline, variations on the same stunt and the same host, Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson.

View the top 10 videos here.