2014 brought a new social media phenomenon to the world – the ice bucket challenge. Basically it involves tipping a bucket of ice water on one’s head, recording it on video and uploading to various social media platforms (typically Facebook which is the most popular platform in most countries). The challenge has become an endorsed fundraising and awareness raising campaign of Motor Neurone Disease Australia. You can read about it on their website: http://www.mndaust.asn.au/Get-involved/Ice-Bucket-Challenge.aspx

Even I’m surprised by how the ice bucket challenge has taken off. I have seen videos renowned and respected friends, colleagues, business associates, children, even Vice Chancellors of universities take part, as well as the standard range of politicians and celebrities. Maybe you have taken part yourself?

Why has this particular campaign gone viral?
This campaign has been so successful because of 4 main factors:

  • Timing – there hasn’t been another ‘big’ social media bandwagon phenomenon recently. There isn’t a lot of competition with planking or other trends. This was probably by chance rather than design. Likewise there hasn’t been a major disaster, natural or otherwise, making headlines in popular or mainstream media. Sure, there is plenty going on in the world, but it’s not headline news on news.com.au.
  • The issue – MND is debilitating, devastating, terminal, and there is no cure. There is virtually no stigma attached unlike other conditions including other communicable diseases, mental health or conditions associated with lifestyle factors (like smoking or nutrition). Everybody can rally behind this condition unequivocally.
  • The ‘feel good’ factor – It does feel good to give money and time to important issues. But it also feels good to show yourself doing something positive and share content on social media. With over half the Australian population using Facebook, people love to share new, funny, and uplifting content with others. There is also an element of peer pressure. Being “nominated” by someone means you actively need to be an overt ‘challenge decliner’ if you don’t take part or are unable to make a generous donation, making you unpopular in the social media schoolyard.
  • Autoplay – There was a technical component to the success too. Due to Facebook commencing autoplay on uploaded videos, Facebook users see the clips automatically on their newsfeed, whereas previously they may not have even clicked on a link.

How could you emulate this for your campaign?
Just because people working in MND research, support and advocacy have achieved great success (arguably), it may not be suitable for all issues. “Going viral” isn’t always something that can be planned. Be careful over planning something with the intention to go viral. It could be seen as being too “try hard” or jumping on the bandwagon of the ice bucket challenge. Any strategy should have clear objectives with measurable outcomes not copycat the work of others.

In summary

It’s fantastic that this campaign has raised funds for MND Australia, with MND causing devastation on the lives of those affected. However “awareness raising” is a rather nebulous campaign objective. Other than donation of money and nominating someone else to do the challenge, there is no other course of action for the participant, such as a behaviour change of any kind. Some may even argue that with such a high level of involvement, participation and donation may mean people will be less likely to contribute other causes as they have used all their good will. Not all campaigns could, or should, ‘go viral’. We wrote about going viral in a previous blog post, which give some tips and advice on getting your cause/issue/health concern etc to ‘go viral’. In short, the Ice Bucket Challenge ticks very few boxes of quality health promotion. Proceed with caution.


More great blogs from a public health perspective on the Ice Bucket Challenge can be found at:

Leah Roman’s Population Health Blog: http://pop-health.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/can-icebucketchallenge-really-help-cure.html

Jason Berek-Lewis of Healthy Startups: http://healthystartups.com/founders-blog/2014/8/20/ice-buckets-dont-drive-long-term-change.html


This blog was based on an article in our September 2014 newsletter. Subscribe now to receive future newsletters.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!