Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | 10 min read
As the year comes to a close, it’s worth taking a second look at some of the most memorable moments in social. One of our favorites is the Ice Bucket Challenge.
You might be surprised to learn that the Ice Bucket Challenge originally had nothing to do with ALS, and it wasn’t part of an official charity campaign. In the original challenge, nominees could select their own charity. A little-known golfer, Chris Kennedy, was the first to choose ALS as his charity because he knew someone suffering with the disease. This helped the challenge spread in his local community, then, some influential people with the condition picked it up, along with some celebrities… and then the rest is viral history.
The Ice Bucket Challenge, and other charity campaigns like No Makeup Selfie, became so huge that even brands got involved.
So, what can brand learn from this year’s successful charity campaigns?
August 2014 will go down as the month that Ice Bucket Challenge videos dominated news feeds across the globe. It’s incredibly hard to start a viral campaign, and although the ALS Association began promoting the campaign and helped popularize the #ALSicebucketchallenge hashtag, the campaign really had a life of its own. So how did a little dare among friends turn into 1.9 million new donors for the ALS Association?
Some of the contributing factors to the campaign’s success were:
From KFC to Samsung, many brands created their own ice bucket challenge videos. Was this a good idea… or in poor taste? On one hand, brand participation can be seen as companies jumping on unrelated trending hashtags to boost their own awareness. On the other hand, it can also be interpreted as companies giving more exposure to a good cause.
It depends if you’re looking at it from a bucket half-empty or half-full perspective.
If you’re a brand, supporting charity campaigns can make a positive impact by raising funds for the charity. And, appearing compassionate doesn’t exactly hurt your brand image. But before you dive in… keep two things in mind: 1. there must be a valid connection to the cause, and 2. you must be be willing to donate generously — incentivizing followers with $1 per tweet won’t cut it anymore.
KFC, for example, used their bucket connection and made it clear that they were donating to charity.
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 ice bucket video also made sense as it’s a waterproof smartphone. However, they got an icy reception from fans with some individuals suggesting that they were using the charity campaign as an excuse to advertise a product.
This kind of approach is a little risky, and you have to be prepared to take some flak if you’re going to showcase your products.
Cancer Research UK’s No Makeup Selfie, which took off in March, probably put charity challenge campaigns on the map. Again, this campaign started organically and the first tagged #nomakeupselfie photo was actually posted in reaction to an Oscars-related incident. It then evolved into a fundraising movement as people began pledging donations with their photos.
The difference here is that Cancer Research UK was responsible for steering the donations to their own charity, unlike Ice Bucket Challenge, where it happened naturally. The success of this campaign came down to the speed and force in which the charity organization embraced the trend — helping them to raise an impressive £8 million in just under a week. A member of the team picked up on it one evening (social media is always on!) and tweeted about it. This was quickly followed by a series of simple, effective posts with a clear call-to-action to donate, made easy by providing a text code.
Social buzz was not all positive though. There were complaints that some participants were viewing it as a beauty contest, more concerned about taking a flattering photo than donating to charity. Despite this, the campaign ultimately helped raise funds for a worthy cause and the positive comments (34% of all comments were positive) far outweighed the negative (6% of comments), giving a healthy overall sentiment score.
The trend also evolved into parody posts with exaggerated make-up and some brands saw this as an opportunity to get in on the fun. Paddy Power, the online betting company known for its humor, joked about the No Makeup Selfie craze. But they also made sure to donate.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) March 27, 2014
Other brands, like Magnum, chose to post bare-faced shots of their products. Keeping the charity as the main focus with a strong donation call-to-action made sure that their posts didn’t come across as a product promo.
Challenging friends is the driving factor in these charity campaigns and brands can use this to their advantage. Some took the opportunity to start conversations on Twitter by daring their competitors to post a stripped-back selfie. UK restaurant chains like Wahacca, GBK and Nandos posted #NoSauceSelfie versions and Fiat, Mini and BMW challenged each other’s cars to pose without their paint jobs.
— MINI UK (@MINIUK) March 26, 2014
Another strategy for brands is to give advice on how to participate in the campaign. For example, beauty brands created content that promoted products and treatments to help their fans feel comfortable going au naturel. Rather than support the charity directly, they tapped into their audience’s desire to look great without makeup. This might go against the grain of the charity campaign, but it shows that they understand their audience.
— Company Magazine (@companymagazine) April 4, 2014
No Makeup Selfie has changed online fundraising as we know it, with the word only narrowly missing out on being Collins English Dictionary’s Twictionary word of the year. It has also inspired a host of other selfie campaigns, like UNICEF’s Wake Up Call. Despite being backed by a celebrity spokesperson and planned PR, the campaign didn’t manage to gain natural momentum like No Make-up Selfie — a lesson that a charity campaign isn’t a guaranteed social win.
— Jemima Khan (@Jemima_Khan) October 8, 2014
If you’re thinking about getting your brand involved in the next charity campaign, there are five things to consider:
The bottom line is this: as long as brands have a genuine interest and make sure they focus on the charity — rather than treating it as a marketing gimmick — then both parties can benefit from the brand’s support.