I originally started to write a post about how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was often resulting in people dunking themselves with ice water without spreading the ALS message as originally intended. My research changed all that when I discovered the Challenge wasn’t originally about ALS at all. And there’s a lesson in that for communicators.
You see, I started out by using the CustomScoop Dashboard to generate a report of the news coverage of the Ice Bucket Challenge, with a breakdown of news stories that mentioned ALS and those that didn’t. Not surprisingly, the chart showed a major spike in the past week.
What surprised me though were the small blips in May and June — well before the time that the Challenge was credited with starting. So I dug a little deeper.
First, if you check out Pete Frates’ original Facebook post on July 31, he states that he is “nominating himself” of the Ice Bucket Challenge, a clear indication that he didn’t start the trend, despite numerous press reports that suggest just that.
So what was the Challenge like before that?
Well, my CustomScoop news search turned up some coverage the day before Frates’ post which featured Rachel Maddow of MSNBC accepting a challenge from Shep Smith of Fox News to perform the challenge. In it, they name the charities of their own choosing.
So I guess that’s how the challenge started, with people calling out charities to support and then having some fun with ice water, right?
Not so fast. My CustomScoop search found more, earlier news stories.
Back in May, firefighters in South Florida were participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for a 3-year-old fighting cancer. This wasn’t some quiet campaign, but one that actually got TV coverage at the time.
So is that how it all started? Maybe, maybe not. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.
The important takeaway here for communicators is that viral activities like these simply can’t be planned. Nobody involved with ALS sketched out a plan for the Ice Bucket Challenge to build awareness and then executed on it. Nor was there a conscious effort to hijack the already ongoing challenge for the benefit of ALS research.
The success came together mostly through good luck and good timing. It provided an outlet that put celebrities on a level playing field with average people and included an element of fun along with serious goal of raising funds for … well, lots of things, as it turns out.