Virtual Ice Bucket Challenge


The Ice Bucket Challenge ALS Campaign  is a product of Social Media. “The origins of the idea of dumping cold water on one’s head to raise money for charity are unclear and have been attributed to multiple sources. From mid-2013 to early 2014, a challenge of unknown origin often called the “Cold Water Challenge” became popular on social media in areas of the northern United States.”  The IBC-ALS Campaign  is a message that takes on a specific form based on the codes & conventions of  the medium used to  convey the message to the target audience. It could not exist without a video hosting site such as YouTube and the means for the general public to easily video  the symbolic act of donation challenge. The mass media  forebear of this would be the Fund-raising Telethons ( The first Television Marathon to raise money for  In 1949, Milton Berle hosted the first ever telethon, raising $1,100,000 for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation over the course of 16 hours ). Telethons are disappearing  and have become less effective as the internet and other forms of television consumption has supplanted television broadcast dominancy.  Even  the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, which was staged for over 21 hours each Labor Day came to an end (1966 and 2010).

The effectiveness of  the Telethon and the newer form of Mass Media social activism plays on the various needs as expressed in  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Society’s fear of disabling & life threatening illnesses combines with the power of self-expression through Mass Media  both in the Telethon and Social Media Challenges. Our concerns & need  for Safety, Physiological Well-being, and Protection of of Our Loved Ones drives us to support causes such as research/finding a cure for ALS , MD or cancer.

Taking action fulfills  the Needs for Esteem & Self-Actualization.  On the negative side, some have pointed out that simply dousing oneself in ice water can be a form of Moral Self-Licensing (PDF) . Self-licensing (aka moral self-licensing, moral licensing, licensing effect) is a term used in social psychology and marketing to describe the subconscious phenomenon whereby increased confidence and security in one’s self-image or self-concept tends to make that individual worry less about the consequences of subsequent immoral behaviour and, therefore, more likely to make immoral choices and act immorally. In simple terms, self-licensing occurs when people allow themselves to indulge after doing something positive first; for example, drinking a diet soda with a cheeseburger can lead one to subconsciously discount the negative attributes of the meal’s high caloric and cholesterol content.” In effect, the higher needs are satisfied without any measurable improvement to other individuals or the society as a whole. The challenge is becomes a a chain-letter of personal satisfaction.

If we turn our attention to marketing & advertising, elements of Claims & Appeals can be seen in the IBC-ALS Campaign. As the number of public figures participating  in the campaign increase and as non-celebrities acquire celebrity status through posting challenges increase, the challenge posts take on the following aspects of Product Endorsements:


– Candid Interview
   -Celebrity testimonial/association
   -Expert testimonial.
Part of the Appeal that is expressed by these challenge posts tie to Needs and the celebrity status that Social Media can generate when the message goes viral. By sharing in the activity, an individual’s sense of self is enhanced . The joining in the activity means you share int he characteristics of others in this expanding societal group and have achieved some measure of public success.

Image & Self
* Youth
** Success
*** One of the Crowd
***A Person of Distinction
 Life Style Living the “good life”

Another side effect of this viral  energy of the campaign is that while entertainment celebrities, politicians, and social activists can  use their own credentials to endorse a worthy cause, they can also promote themselves and their own interests at the same time.  Since many television shows are in production for the coming fall season, on set challenges, often aimed at other shows & their casts create an awareness  and anticipation for the up-coming season.

Notice the blurring of characters with the roles they portray.  This celebrity activity enters a virtual reality as there is an attempt to connect the activity of the challenge with fictional worlds and television brands. There is also an attempt to create spontaneity  & authenticity in the experience, to sell the message, present the actors as real people, and tie this experience & related emotions to the television show. This approach has also been used  to  bolster the status of the WB’s  efforts to build next phase in the Superman-Batman movie franchise.

Where this virtual experience has entered an intriguing level is with computer gaming companies and CGI (Computer-generated imagery). Digital Extremes, in London Ontario, created  a ice bucket sequence of its characters the Corpus from their game, Warframe.  They followed through with a donation. Destiny’s Ghost accepted the challenge, but rather than making a specific donation, they tied it to 20 % of their sales up to a specific date.

The whole process of  this expanding  challenge has  demonstrated the ephemeral ability to market using Social Media. While the Media Principles and Advertising Techniques are the same as with other forms of Mass Media, the best  one can do is ride the wave and attach oneself to the event. As Jonathan Salem Baskin  points out, in  What Brands Shouldn’t Learn From The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (Forbes), the Ice Bucket  “is a brilliant concept because it does what great branding and smart marketing execution are supposed to do: Give people something they value in an authentic, immediately tangible and share-worthy way.”    Its unpredictable nature means it is almost impossible to replicate or control the results.


NOte: Thanks to my son Alexander for pointing out the gaming companies involvement with the challenge.