Written by Tatiana Kravets

Recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is an example of a campaign, which went viral on social media, rising over $125 million donations in more than one month [1] for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association to conduct research and promote awareness of ALS disease. This amount of accumulated money is 40 times more than the sum acquired by ALS Foundation in 2013 [2]. The campaign gained 2.2 million Twitter mentions, 1.2 million Facebook videos of individuals pouring buckets of ice water over themselves, engagement of such leaders as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Lei Jun and Victor Koo [3]. Overall, over 1,000 celebrities took part in the Challenge and made donations [4]. It’s told that the phenomenon of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is going to change people’s attitudes towards charity and philanthropy. This case study shows the tremendous power of social media in creation of brand meaning and brand/product/idea promotion. Let me introduce the key elements, which made this campaign viral and provide insight for better understanding of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomena. 

Success lies in a storytelling: path from listener to actor

Storytelling is regarded as a powerful tool to enhance consumers’ connection with a brand [5]. Singh&Sonnenburg [5] use metaphor of improvisation theatre to emphasize the increasing role of consumer in the story creation and a shift in consumer behaviour from being a listener to being a co-creator of brand performance, which was caused by the emergence of social media. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started from the story of the former Boston College Baseball player, Pete Frates, and his family, who created the challenge with the aim to spread awareness of ALS disease and accumulate money for scientific research. In the brand developing and brand communication process, storytelling cause empathy, build awareness, release emotions and help the story to be recalled [5]. It’s exactly what happened to the story of Pete Frates with the help of networking and the power of crowd. Simple, selfless and society beneficial ideas are able to easily attract and create resonance.

Moreover, now people want to be an active part of the story, its protagonists, its actors and a hero of the brand’s narrative. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled everybody to tell own story through posting and sharing own videos, which emerged into series of interrelated stories created by users. “True success lies in the art of storytelling – brands becoming part of people’s stories and people becoming part of the brand” [6] – commented the new role of marketing based on reasons of Challenge success IBM Advisor Amanda E. Sirianni. 

“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience…” (Steve Jobs)

Among reasons that spar consumers to generate and promote own content in social media it’s possible to define such as desire for enjoyment, entertainment, promoting themselves to gain attention, expressing one’s personal identity, and ability to influence others [5, 7], which overall lead to creation of user’s experience. These issues can be enhanced by the audience effect [8] – knowing that other people are watching your videos through social media stimulates more actively support social initiative. Additionally, among other motives to become engaged in a big social phenomenon is the level of stories provocation, excitement and strength of story resonance with consumers’ personality [5]. As well as tension created by brands enhances social discussion, being challenged by friends stimulates further participation. The resonance in this case can be explained as natural feeling of responsibility for other’s welfare and desire to become a part of social phenomena and viral initiative. The Ice Bucket Challenge created a memorable experience with emotional appeal, possibility to make personal contribution to society and become a part of smth greater. Thus, more than 1,2 million of people have shared their videos in Facebook [3], more than 28 million (Aug 17, 2014) of people have posted, commented, or liked a post about the Challenge [2]. In case of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, storytelling created empathy and engagement, while desire to get experience stimulated actions [6]. 

Networks, relations and interactions spread the word

Networking and building a unique community of likeminded people can be regarded as the third biggest power of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge success. Every time a person participated and shared video in the social network, he/she nominated 3 friends, giving them 24 hours to accept the challenge, which created a cycle or a domino effect and demonstrated the power of network. Moreover, consumers are instinctively motivated by others’ stories to participate in a brand narrative [5]. Thus, the interrelated content tripled with the help of every new participant and users kept the performance going. There were 2,330,000 (Aug 26, 2014) YouTube videos, 60 second each, which will take you 4,4 years to see them all [2]. “Social influence drives social epidemics” [9] – can be an explanation of the fast digital spread of this campaign. 

“Think of today as a prototype. What would you change?” [6]

One of other distinctive characteristics of the role of the Internet and social media is consumer’s empowerment, which can be expressed in 4 consumer power sources: demand-, information-, network- and crowd-based power [10]. Another driving force of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge success is crowdfunding/crowdsourcing initiative. Each person that accepted a challenge donated money for the benefits of ALS Foundation. This Challenge gave power to everybody to make a change and contribute as well as through networking pool resources to serve community initiative. The example of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge also demonstrates the example of co-existence and correlation of 4 sources of consumer power in social environment. Starting from a need-based power as the necessity to accumulate money for ALS research, the campaign implied information-based power in terms of content production through creating and sharing videos and experiences. Crowd-based power in this case employs network-based power through friends’ engagement, and domino effect stimulation in order to “pool, mobilize and structure resources” [10] to benefit individuals and society. Nowadays, “the power is in the crowd and the crowd is more powerful than any brand” [9], which results in ability of crowds to accumulate money, human capital, other resources to serve the global society.





Discussion: consumers’ empowerment for viral marketing growth

Internet users upload 100 hours of video to YouTube every 60 seconds, share more than 4.75 billion pieces of content on Facebook every 24 hours, add more than 500 million new tweets per day [11], 59% of people frequently share on-line content with others, someone tweets a link to a New York Times story once every four seconds [12]. Which characteristics can make the content viral and enable high level of users’ engagement? How can brand-managers repeat the success of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and create powerful viral initiatives?

Berger J. [11] identified 6 key drivers of making online content viral under the acronym STEPPS: Social Currency (ex. sharing content, which shows personal contribution), Triggers (top-of-mind events), Emotion, Public (stimulate to imitate other’s behaviour), Practical Value (news) and Stories. These elements highly correlate with previously described on the example of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge storytelling, experience creation, networking and the power of crowd. Social Currency can be expressed in terms of the “audience effect”, feeling and experience of being a part of a big social phenomenon, while Triggers and Publicity can be regarded through the power of networking, motivation by others’ stories and “social epidemics”. Subsequently, the reasons of creation of viral marketing campaigns can be expressed through the recent shift in consumer behaviour towards co-creation, users desire to make an impact and make their voices heard, and expansion of network- and crowd-power. 

Shift in power: from observer to co-creator and actor

The expansion of the social media and Internet penetration made companies understand that engagement, collaboration, discussions and co-creation with consumers lead to deeper relationships between brands and consumers and more effective brand communities [13]. Prominent example of successful viral marketing campaign initially launched by a company with further active engagement and co-creation with consumers is Evian “Baby and Me” ad (link: ). “It’s all about being connected with your inner baby—a sensation that creates a feeling of freedom, of letting go, a spontaneous and communicative frenzy" [14], - explained the idea of the campaign Evian’s Global Brand director Laurent Houel. This campaign received 139 million Youtube views in more than 80 countries, 120,000 tweets by 43,655 users, reaching a potential audience of 60,207,000 followers, more than 1 million shares and over 289,000 Facebook comments [15]. To keep interaction and socializing with consumer Evian produced “Baby and Me” app for IOs and Android and gave consumers possibility to create very real picture of the “baby inside them” [16]. 

Image: (Link: Evian “Baby and Me” campaign

“Baby and Me” app gave consumers fun, excitement, enjoyment, self-expression and the chance to try baby experience for themselves. Moreover, “Baby and Me” app enabled to become an actor, part of a viral campaign and tell personal story. As in case of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Evian “Baby and Me” campaign gave users a chance to create own story, gain exciting experience, share with others and co-create the overall brand meaning. Additionally, Barak Orenstein, Canada Marketing Director of Evian emphasized the value of peripheral content creation – the story within the story such as using unique music – remix created by Japanese mix master, Maria Sharapova’s baby pictures in her Facebook page as a part of a campaign, users’ remixes. Such elements enhance continuation and sustainability of campaigns’ sharing [17]. Moreover, in Canada the campaign was translated in 200 TV screens in stores in order to create users experience offline [17]. These elements can be regarded as reasons for making campaign viral. In a nutshell, an example of Evian “Baby and Me” campaign confirmed once more that storytelling and creating consumer’s exiting experience which stimulate active sharing are essential for campaign success and making its viralnevertheless whether it’s business or social campaign. 

Shift in relations: from small communities to the power of crowd

Social network enables participants to build interest- or brand-based communities. The first step in the brand management in social media is creation a place, where brand funs can congregate [18]. Another step is to encourage collaboration, sharing, discussions etc. Crowd funding and crowd-sourcing are the greatest examples of the power of networks and crown in making social contribution. Through networks the information can spread among enormous amount of people even creating domino effect in order to gather resources and to make contribution. Remember: “the crowd is more powerful than any brand” [9].

Shift in communication: make consumers’ voices louder

Traditional marketing communications can be characterized by lack of consumers’ feedback and companies’ control of sharing information and brand building process. The accelerated power of the Internet and social media environment stimulate more frequent and deeper communication between producers and consumers and force companies react on consumers attitude, behaviour, expectations, complains expressed through social media. Consumers tend to trust informal communication between users more than company’s direct involvement. For instance, the most-read section of Virgin Atlantic Facebook page includes recommendations of travel tips from crew members, which is regarded as “informal, honest and caring” communication [19]. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started from the voice of one person and spread all over the world.


To sum up, emergence of social media enabled production of a viral content and fast spread of information sharing and consumers’ engagement. The examples of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Evian’s “Baby and Me” campaigns confirmed that creation of viral content highly correlated with consumers current ability to become co-creator of the content and the actor of the brand story. Additionally, consumers’ desire to gain memorable experience and share it with other users can have power to stimulate other and lead to the domino effect. With the high speed of sharing and other users’ engagement due to network power and social influences marketing campaigns can become viral.  



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