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Ice goes Viral

Posted by Emma Nicol | 20 August 2014

Categories: Campaign Charity Third Sector

ice_bucket_challenge image

Our previous blog was about icebergs so this seems like a nice progression to write about the new viral social phenomenon that is the ice bucket challenge #icebucketchallenge. There is debate about where this originated from but it was certainly popularised in the United States to raise awareness and funds for ALS Association. According to the charity the campaign has raised $22.9 from July 29 to August 19 2014 (compared to $1.9 million during the same time period last year).

The essential parameters of the ice bucket challenge campaign are that within 24 hours of being nominated the requirement is to accept or decline. If the nominee chooses to accept they are to record video footage of themselves and upload it to social media. During the video they are to announce their acceptance of the challenge before raising awareness of the cause. After which they’ll be soaked by a bucket of ice and water, often assisted, being poured over their head. The participant can then challenge others. The initial intention was that if the challenge is accepted a donation of $10 is pledged and if declined it’s a larger $100.

The campaign has reached unprecedented heights as it’s been taken up by a vast array of celebrities and sporting stars. The viral campaign has now come over to the UK and in it’s migration the message and origins have started to be lost in translation.

As the genesis of these kind of viral challenges seem to be more organic than traditional campaigns, it appears that charities and causes are only able to harness their power to carry their message for a finite period. Like Chinese whispers the message gets distorted or lost altogether the longer it runs, ultimately leaving the challenge open for new interpretation. In one version now being shared, the challenge of dumping the iced water over one’s head is done in lieu of any donation – this has in itself led to criticism of the challenge morphing into a form of slacktivism. This lost interpretation and acknowledgment of origin happens most easily when a challenge emigrates via the internet to a new country where the original host charity isn’t represented as in the case of the ice-bucket challenge.

In the UK the charity most associated with the initial cause is the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MND is the same as ALS which is how it is know in the US) and they have rightfully attempted to harness the challenge for a direct way of raising awareness of the disease in this country. However, that hasn’t been so simple and now it seems Macmillan Cancer are determined to benefit from this lucrative and no doubt short lived phenomenom. And why shouldn’t they? If the message has been lost but can be given new purpose so that it’s money raising potential is still being utilised then surely that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

The viral challenge system and formula seems to work so well because it combines a little bit of good will with a dollop of excitement, a dash of FOMO (fear of missing out) and a huge side portion of ME ME ME. These ingredients are what makes them so appealing but it also means the emphasis is often taken away from the message and can leave something of a bitter aftertaste when the original cause and intention starts to lose out. As with the no make up selfie campaign there is an obvious temptation and opportunity when this happens. It becomes a campaign that other charities can channel and use to benefit different causes.

So this is something we must acknowledge as being part of the very nature of a viral social campaign such as this, because there is no way of controlling these beasts – they continue to grow and spread. But as with online content, blogs and commentary, sharing, reposting etc, it is considered good practice to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the source. We feel it’s only fair that a similar practice is adopted. Macmillan Cancer have seen the trend and renamed it accordingly to be associated with their cause, but giving no acknowledgement or credit to ALS, which distorts the campaign.

With a viral phenomenon it is part and parcel that everyone wants to get involved and share, harness the success, but there should fundamentally be a simple acknowledgement and respect of the nature of the campaign and it’s origins, rather than claiming it.

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