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What the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Tells Us About Successful Viral Marketing

There are six cardinal rules that can determine if your viral campaign will be successful or not: clarity, ease, immediacy, multiplicity, versatility, and the ability to make participants feel good about themselves for having taken part.

The past three weeks have produced a whole lot of videos featuring a whole lot of people dumping a whole lot of ice water on themselves. Some folks love the videos. Others are sick to death of them. Some folks manage to maintain an enigmatic indifference. All that said, it’s impossible to deny that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the most successful viral campaigns we’ve seen in quite some time. What is the cause of its success? Why did it get so big? According to Gabrielle Boko of Entrepreneur, the key is in how well the challenge abides by the six cardinal virtues of good viral marketing:

1. Clarity: Despite some folks trying to create their own spin-offs, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been nothing but clear with regard to its goal and cause. Simplicity is key. The masses aren’t going to buy into extra steps or a scavenger hunt. Don’t try to get too clever.

2. Easy & Fun: As Boko mentions, a big part of the appeal of the Challenge is in watching Bill Gates or Usain Bolt or George W. Bush shiver like a baby penguin beneath a torrent of icy water. The spirit of the campaign is all about not taking yourself too seriously. The internet digs that sort of thing.

3. Immediacy: This is where that 24-hour time limit comes in. People who abide by the deadline contribute in quickly spreading the message along. The public nature of these challenges makes it the sort of thing you can’t easily blow off.

4. Multiplication: Speaking of spreading the message, having participants incorporate their own personal networks helps to grow brand awareness as well as multiply the number of people taking part. The “nominate three people” idea is among the Challenge’s brightest.

5. Versatile Sharing: Boko: “If you’re hoping for an idea or campaign to go viral, make it easy for others to share updates across multiple platforms.” The Ice Bucket Challenge thrives on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, etc., etc., etc.

6. Good Feels: Even if folks aren’t donating, making and sharing a video feels like you’re helping out the cause. Taking the challenge also unites you with a special social community, which also boosts the appeal. This last part is the most difficult to pull off but also the most vital. Would the KFC Ice Bucket Challenge challenge have taken off? What if the Challenge had been sponsored by Pringles or Nordstrom or Citgo? Corporate campaigners have the arduous task of masking the fact that they’re trying to sell something.

Think about past campaigns that took off or sputtered out. Remember the “Simpsonize Me” craze? How about Kony 2012? Or that weekend when everyone on Facebook changed their profile photo to a cartoon character for… some reason?

The reasons those campaigns succeeded or failed were determined by their adherence to the six guidelines. Be sure to keep them in mind if you’re hoping to kick off the next great viral campaign.

And one final note: if you’re in drought-stricken California and get nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, you’re really left with no other choice

Read more at Entrepreneur

Photo credit: MNSKumar / Shutterstock


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