by Carol Lundberg

splashIn public relations and marketing circles, summer 2014 will for years into the future be remembered as the Summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

That’s because it’s a social media marketing campaign that’s so good, so effective, and so downright fun that most of us wistfully sigh, “Well heck, I wish I would have thought of that one.”

That’s in part because the campaign in which people dump buckets of ice water on their heads to raise money and awareness for ALS research so quickly reached “viral” status.

But that’s only part of it. The most impressive thing is that not only was everyone talking about it; they were doing something about it.

The result has been astonishing. By Aug. 29 the challenge had helped to raise more than $100 million in donations for ALS research.

There have been other effective social media marketing campaigns:

  • In 2013 The Human Rights Campaign changed its logo to red to raise awareness and support of marriage equality as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments surrounding California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.
  • Back in 2010, Old Spice enjoyed a 16 percent bump in sales, which the company attributed to humorous YouTube videos going viral.
  • The 2014 #yesallwomen Twitter campaign grew quickly after a gunman killed six people in a shooting rampage near Santa Barbara in May. The gunman stated in a video he made before the shootings (including his own death by his own gun) that his intent was to punish women for not being attracted to him. The campaign was a statement about a society that the protesters said teaches men to feel entitled to attention by women.
  • And there was the highly effective awareness campaign, #bringbackourgirls, after 273 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria in April 2014.

But the Ice Bucket Challenge is different. The challenge works because it’s visual, it’s fun and noncontroversial, it’s shareable, and it requires publicly challenging others to take part, ensuring that it continues to grow bigger until it fizzles.

What it does better than other viral social media campaigns is that it has a clear call to an achievable action. Participants are called upon to make a donation to ALS research or douse themselves with a bucket of ice water. Or even better: Make the donation and dump water on themselves.

It wasn’t too long ago that this campaign never would have worked. That’s because it would have reached the tipping point of “too much work.” Not only do people have to get ice and a bucket, but they’d have to shoot video, edit it and post it to social media. So while people do have to go to the trouble of getting ice and a bucket, social media tools and the ease of making video have made the timing of this campaign just perfect.

No matter which option participants choose, it’s all doable. (Just ask our very own Michael Layne, who took the challenge and followed up with a donation.)

Other equally popular campaigns have been effective in raising awareness. But unfortunately, no matter how much we want to bring those Nigerian schoolgirls home, no single person is capable of doing so. And if you’re of the mind that all Americans should have equal rights to marry, solving that problem is bigger than a hashtag.

But everyone can spare a few bucks to send to a cause like helping to fight a terrible disease. So while the campaign grows, so have the donations.