What’s in a bucket of ice water?

What’s in a bucket of ice water?

A month ago, few Americans knew anything about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Even fewer would have imagined they’d soon be dousing themselves with freezing water.

But then the ALS Ice Bucket challenge happened. The campaign went viral on social media. Ordinary citizens and celebrities alike joined in on the action. The ALS Association received $70 million in donations in the past month. Compare that to their $2.5 million haul last August — a 2700 percent increase.

The challenge wasn’t dreamt up by any crafty PR specialist at the ALS Association — it started organically as a social media fad. But savvy PR professionals can still take away valuable lessons from the campaign’s success.

1) Peer pressure works. Most people who took the ice bucket challenge have no personal connection to the disease — they took the challenge because their friends and family were doing it, and they didn’t want to feel left out. The more people you can get to use your product, the more people will want to use it.

2) Trendsetters matter. All trends start small — they take off when influential people spread the word. In the case of the ALS challenge, politicians, athletes, and media personalities were key in popularizing the fad. Celebrity endorsements are still important.

3) People want to feel like they are making a difference. That’s why the ice bucket challenge was so popular — it made people feel good about raising awareness for the disease, even if they didn’t have the money or desire to contribute financially. The average person enjoys helping others, but there’s a limit to how much time and money they are willing to spend on any particular cause. If people feel like they are doing a good deed by purchasing your product, they are that much more likely to buy.

These lessons hold true no matter what product you’re selling — clothes, food, a client’s services, or a political position. Remember that, and your next PR campaign won’t get soaked.

Colin Valentine