Analyzing a Campaign that Generated $100 Million

Analyzing a Campaign that Generated $100 Million

Nobody in their right mind would voluntarily agree to let someone douse them over the head with a bucket of ice water. Yet the Ice Bucket Challenge took the world by storm, with thousands of people volunteering to get soaked, raising a cool $100 million+ in the process. What components went into making the campaign such a raging success?   

“Do it big, or stay in bed” is the motto of David Sable, global CEO of the Young and Rubicam (Y&R) Group and that saying could easily be applied to the Ice Bucket Challenge.

In case you were living in a cave for the last year, the Ice Bucket Challenge enlisted volunteers who agreed to have a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads to raise money for the ALS Association. ALS is a neurological disease where the brain can no longer control the body’s muscles. ALS, is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gehrig, the legendary New York Yankee first baseman known as the Iron Horse, played in 2,130 consecutive games, yet he died of ALS in 1941 at the age 37.

The origin of the Ice Bucket Challenge is not totally clear, however, the most commonly accepted version credits the idea to Peter Frates, a former collegiate baseball player from Boston, diagnosed with ALS in March 2012. It took off in mid-July of this year when Matt Lauer, host of the Today Show, became the first major celebrity to do it live and in living color.

It caught on, spreading across America, and throughout the world, with the wet-heads donating money to the ALS Association, and challenging their network of friends and colleagues to follow suit, although it’s usually advisable not to wear your finest suit when getting doused.

This totally unorthodox fundraising campaign spread like wildfire.

The actual dousing takes only a few seconds, allowing for a catchy and short clip suitable for easy and fast upload on social media. By the end of August, more than 2.4 million videos of Ice Bucket Challenges were uploaded to Facebook. Some 28 million people posted, commented, or liked these videos and it’s more than likely that a good number of those 28 million donated too.

As more and more people decided to get soaked, the ALS Association basked in success. By summers’ end, it hauled in some $113 million in donations; quadruple the sum it fundraised from all sources in 2013. The average donation was $46.25 and the single largest donation was $100,000.

There are several reasons why I think this campaign knocked the ball out of the park like Lou Gehrig did 493 times in his illustrious career.

The campaign utilized a wide range of proven marketing concepts. The timing was perfect. It reached a peak at the beginning of the summer, when people are looking to chill. An ice bucket concept wouldn’t have worked in the winter, unless maybe you live in Miami Beach or Hawaii.

The fact that so many big-name celebrities got into the act certainly helped. Former President George W. Bush, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg were among those who took the plunge. This is an important point to remember for any organization looking to raise awareness. Relationships matter and you must leverage connections to your best advantage.

Finally, the spirit of competition made it fun. The attitude of: “If he can do it, so can I,” spread.

The Ice Bucket Challenge picked up steam, if you will, precisely because it was a unique, out-of-the-bucket concept that helped people to understand this very complicated disease and empathize with those suffering from it.

Sharing his own thoughts on his LinkedIn page at the end of August, Y&R’s David Sable noted that while using social media to raise awareness is what “click and shout” is all about, the next step is to ensure that the social part is tied to an action in the real world.

“The entertainment is proof that a good idea, and a great story, engages people. That’s marketing 101,” writes Sable. “But at the end of the day, there is no substitute for the pure emotion that helps to motivate behavior. The real push is for dollars that can be used to cure this incredibly insidious disease.”

Bottom Line Action Step: Build a successful marketing campaign by timing it right, leveraging relationships and thinking out-of-the box.


Yitzchok Saftlas featured in the Small Business Journal, March 2015.

Yitzchok Saftlas

Yitzchok Saftlas is the CEO of Bottom Line Marketing Group, a premier marketing agency recognized for its goal-oriented branding, sales, and recruitment and fundraising techniques. Serving corporate, non-profit and political clientele, Bottom Line's notable clients include: Beth Medrash Govoha, Dirshu and TeachNYS. He can be reached at

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