Viral case study: How the 'Ice Bucket challenge' raised $15m in 3 weeks

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In July 2014, Charity ALS started a small scale internet challenge that ended up reaching all the way to the White House. This case study looks at how the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ led to record donations to the charity, raising some $15.6m in contributions to the group and its national affiliates, compared with less than $50,000 in the same period last year.

The ALS Association aims to support those afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), a motor neurone disease which affects around 5,000 people in the UK.

The ‘Ice Bucket challenge’ was started by Pete Frates, a baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago. On 30th July 2014 he challenged several Boston Red Sox players to the ice-bucket treatment to raise money and awareness for the condition and since then a number of high-profile celebrities have agreed to take part.

But the last few weeks on July 2014 marked the moment that the trend truly kicked off, as a flood of celebrities participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, in increasingly creative ways.

The challenge works with a participant (either a volunteer or someone who has been challenged) films themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their head. The dunkee then challenges a friend to do the same in the name of ALS, within 24 hours, and/or donate to the cause.

The volume of tweets that include the #icebucketchallenge hashtag over the month of August has surged over the past 10 days, peaking at 90,000 on the 11th before tapering off.


According to data from Brandwatch, a social intelligence company, more than 480,000 mentions of the challenge have appeared on social media in the past seven days (filtering out spam and irrelevant mentions). The trend tends to skew slightly male (55 percent to 45 percent) and has had more than 4 billion total impressions.

The challenge has also provided experiential marketers with a masterclass on how to amplify the reach of their campaigns. Filming someone doused in ice is edgy enough to get people watching without being too dangerous (unlike the 'necknominate' drinking trend from earlier this year) while keeping a universal appeal.

“It’s huge. It’s a game changer for the ALS Association,” said ALS Association President Barbara Newhouse.

Project ALS, another charity dedicated to combatting Lou Gehrig’s disease, said it experienced a surge in fundraising after Ben Stiller and Ricky Gervais took the Challenge and asked people to contribute to that organization specifically.

The charity raised $96,000 over a single weekend, compared to just a few thousand dollars in the first weeks of August 2013.

The charity will use the money to fund research, on which the organization currently spends more than $6 million a year. Project ALS says all the money the organization receives will go toward innovative research and “staffing up.”

In the UK, Macmillan Cancer Support have taken on the campaign asking people to donate £3 after completing the challenge.

Below are some of the highlights from the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’:

It should be noted that President Barack Obama declined an invitation to take the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which is taking the country by storm.

Ethel Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, accepted the challenge earlier in the week and challenged Obama, according to the Boston Globe.

“Welcome to Cape Cod, President Obama. I nominate you,” she said of the vacationing president just before getting doused.

The president politely declined, but still offered to do his part.

"The president appreciates Mrs. Kennedy thinking of him for the challenge - though his contribution to this effort will be monetary," Obama said in a statement issued through spokesman Eric Schultz, the Boston Globe reported. "The president will be making a donation to an ALS charity this week."

According to CBS DC, Obama will donate $100 to an undisclosed charity that fights ALS.

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