It’s On! How the Ice Bucket Challenge is Benefiting ALS—and Brands


It’s an exclusive club and growing every day, but you might ask, what do New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Ethel Kennedy, Justin Timberlake and Martha Stewart all have in common?

They’ve all accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral social fundraiser for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, that is prompting a Who’s Who of participants to dump buckets of ice water over their heads in the name of medical research. The social movement, which has benefited the US national ALS Association, asks participants to nominate three others or make a $100 donation to ALS within 24 hours of the nomination. And donating they are.

“If we look at donations Association-wide (which includes national and chapter revenue), our organization has received $9.5 million compared to $1.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 15),” an ALS Association spokesperson told brandchannel. “From July 29 to August 15, the national office of The ALS Association has received $6.7 million compared with $34,800 in donations during the same time period last year. These donations have come from existing donors and 184,812 new donors to The Association.”[more]

The challenge is largely credited to former Boston College athlete Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and performed the challenge last month, turning a general charitable initiative into a social movement directed at raising awareness around ALS, according to The Verge.

“We were surprised by the campaign, but delighted about the response,” the ALS spokesperson told us. “The viral nature of social media is extremely powerful.”

Participants are turning the camera on themselves for what has become cause-related selfies as they record their participation in the chilly challenge. Across social media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, hastags like #IceBucketChallenge and #StrikeOutALS are helping spread the word.

This week, participation stretched to public figures, celebrities, professional sports teams and major brands, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Coca-Cola SVP of marketing, Wendy Clark.

Clark got in the spirit by having Coke’s polar bear mascot on hand, and nominated other CMOs and brand leaders (and their mascots) including Mark Addicks of General Mills and the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee; Lisa Cochrane of Allstate and the Mayhem man; Dana Anderson of Mondelez International and the Milkbite Man; Jeff Jones of Target and Bullseye the Target dog; and Deborah Wahl of McDonalds and Ronald McDonald.

T-Mobile’s John Legere also took the challenge and the opportunity to nominate some of his telcom rivals, including Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, by launching his own version, the #CEOchallenge. 

But the kind of “clicktivism” behind the massive success of the Ice Bucket Challenge is nothing new. Indeed, social media has been successfully used to drive awareness around many causes and occurences, like the recent #SaveOurGirls hashtag to raise awareness for crimes committed against women in Nigeria.

But besides the warm August weather, Inc. points out that the Challenge had nearly every signature of a successful viral campaign: it’s open to everyone, the rules are simple, the challenge has a time limit, and simple and clear social communication allows for easy shareability. 

Watch Jimmy Fallon, the New York Jets, Bill Gates and more take the Challenge below:

—Sheila is a New York-based writer/producer, co-founder of Third Eye Media and an avid believer in the power of the media for change. Connect with her on Twitter: @srshayon