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The Ice Bucket Challenge: What made it so popular?

By Emilee Eagar | Posted - Sep. 18, 2014 at 7:41 a.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Gallon after gallon, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has dominated social media around the world.

"ALS has kind of become a household acronym over the past two or three weeks, and that's rare and unique," Avery Holton, communication professor at the University of Utah, said.

It's the goal of every charitable organization to spread awareness and raise funds for its cause. Jennifer Merback, communication and marketing director for the American Heart Association, said organizers have to keep moving forward.

"And keep collaborating and keep brain-storming with fun ideas," she said.

What is it about the Ice Bucket Challenge that made it so successful?

"There are three keys. Pressure, personalization and then a feeling of belonging to that effort," Holton said.

Seeing friends and family join in made others want to accept the challenge too, he said.

"It's a fun pressure right? It's not, 'You must give or you're a bad person.' It's, 'Hey join us,'" he said.

The Draper Police Department personalized its Ice Bucket Challenge by representing 137 fallen officers.

"I think it's something fun, and it's an easy way to get people to gather around a cause," Draper Police Chief Bryan Roberts said.

Many others have made the challenge more personal.

"Rather than just looking at a video and having a good laugh at your friend pouring ice over their head, you start to think about, well what matters to me," Holton said.

Tami Steggell didn't want to just be part of the trend.

About ALS and the challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge started with Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player. Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Frates posted a video to Facebook inviting people to take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Since then, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. ALS leads to muscle weakness, difficulty speaking, breathing and swallowing which eventually leads to death. There is no cure for the disease.

"I began to wonder like, how many of these people are actually donating to ALS or just being a part of the fad and a little bit of attention-getters," she said. "I didn't want to be just an attention-getter."

So Steggell decided to accept the challenge but to do it for a cause that is important to her. She chose multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects her manager's husband and several family members and friends.

The attention the challenge brings to giving is good, she said.

"It helps people grow personally, it helps the community grow and it helps people who are receiving to grow," Steggell said.

"We're raising money, awareness, we're raising awareness simply by posting a video," Holton said. "Even if it's goofy or gimmicky or seems silly to some folks, it's still raising awareness."

Holton said successful marketing campaigns are usually very calculated.

"We go back and look at the pink campaign. The color was chosen for a reason, the ribbons were chosen for a reason, the spokespeople were chosen for a reason," he said.

And it paid off. The Susan G. Komen nonprofit organization is one of the largest and most widely known charities in the U.S.

For charities to stand out, it's about "click-bait." Holton said charities can attempt to find something that is interesting online.

"But now, we're starting to move into a new age of social media where there is some of the altruism," he said. "Some of the altruism connected with some of this fun effort."

And for different charitable organizations, like the American Heart Association, the Ice Bucket Challenge served as a teaching moment.

"It made me stop and think that I need to do more with our social media. I absolutely need to engage more," Merback said.

She said sometimes, it's about not giving up.

"Sometimes it is, it is luck. Sometimes things don't quite resonate and you have to keep trying," she said.

Holton said as the Ice Bucket Challenge fizzles out, maybe ALS will come up with something new, maybe it won't.

"But regardless, they've succeeded in their effort, right. And that effort is to raise awareness and to raise research funds," Holton said.

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Emilee Eagar

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