Icy Virus

What is the “Ice Bucket Challenge”?

The Ice Bucket Challenges involves getting filmed having a bucket of ice-water dumped on your head to promote awareness of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Someone nominates you to do this, and within 24 hours you have to get dunked or to buy your way out via a charitable donation. Often the person getting soaked makes a donation anyway. The phenomenon has gone viral: over 2.4 million videos have been posted, and the ALS Association has raised $53 million dollars in the last month, versus $2 million a year ago, from over a million new donors.

But why? What’s so special about getting soaked by a bucket of ice water? The CEOs of Facebook, GE, and Disney have been filmed, along with many sports stars, entertainers, and politicians. There are lots of worthy causes. Why should this effort be so successful?

A recent study outlines six elements that go into the most successful ad campaigns: social currency, emotion, public activity, stories, practical value, and triggers. This activity hits on the first four factors. Social currency makes us look good; the emotional appeal of ALS is obvious; the videos make it public; and each dunking has a unique story. The Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t seem particularly practical, nor does it rely on current-event triggers—except that August is hot, and ice is cool. But an idea doesn’t have to hit all six. Four out of six, for a current, heart-tugging cause, seems to have been enough.

Social contagion is usually a negative phenomenon, associated with mobs, panics, and financial bubbles. It’s encouraging to see it applied here in such a positive way.


Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Phone: 603-224-1350
Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all!

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