The Marketing Brilliance Behind the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge

What the financial industry can learn from ALS’ big marketing “splash”

By Mary Cox Marketing


If you haven’t heard of the ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge,” then you’re likely living under a rock. Between the more than 1.2 million videos shared on Facebook, the 2.2 million Tweets, segments on national programs like NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallen and The Today Show, as well as local programs and newspapers across the country, it is nearly impossible to not know about the ice-water-dumping-on-head-fundraiser phenomenon that is helping to raise awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In fact, it has been so highly publicized over the last several weeks, as of Aug. 22, the ALS Association had received $53.3 million in donations – more than 24 times the amount typically raised during a similar time period. With a surge of celebrities, politicians and companies jumping on the bandwagon within just the last few days, contributions are expected to keep rising.

Numbers like these merit a closer look into why this campaign has been so successful.

First, the challenge is simple. Dump a bucket of ice water on yourself within 24 hours of being challenged or donate $100 to the ALS Association. It’s that easy. In fact, ALS was never the brains behind this idea.

It actually started with golfer Chis Kennedy, who was challenged by a friend. The campaign had nothing to do with any specific charity and even found its way to folks like Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, who doused himself in July to donate to the Hospice of Palm Beach County. A slew of others quickly followed suit for other charities and causes.

Second, it’s fun. Who doesn’t want to dump a bucket of teeth-chattering, icy water on themselves? Okay, no one really wants to do that, but the ingenuity of this fundraiser is the interaction with others through social media. It has a community-oriented appeal that sparks enjoyment and fun. You post it on Facebook and tag your friends to join in.

Third, it’s for a good cause – not just for laughs. People like to make a difference and take part in something that encourages positive action or change. As a result, a ton of money has been raised that will be used to help fight Lou Gehrig’s disease through research, care services, public education and public policy. And despite skepticism from individuals like Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, who believes the money raised is unlikely to be transformative, the $53.3 million currently raised is more than one-half of the entire amount spent annually on ALS by the federal government and charitable organizations, according to ALS chief executive Rob Goldstein.

Last, the challenge is contagious – largely due to social media. News travels fast, but on Facebook and Twitter, it travels at light-speed, making it an ideal platform to raise awareness for causes like ALS. With such a powerful success story on how a simple campaign went viral so quickly and raised millions within a few weeks, marketers in the FinTech industry cannot ignore social media’s influence. Whether to raise money for charities or raise awareness, it works – plain and simple.

As donations continue to pour in and more individuals and companies take the Ice Bucket Challenge, this campaign may have spawned a new era in marketing. Organizations across all industries – including financial services – will likely make similar attempts, but whether they are as successful as the ALS Association is yet to be known.

To make a donation to the ALS Association, please visit or

Leave a Reply