The Ice Bucket Challenge has generated, in addition to more than ten million dollars in funding in the US and nearly 10 million uploads to YouTube, accolades such as that pronounced by Wharton, describing it as a phenomenal marketing campaign.
The project, which was launched when Pete Frates challenged his friends, has given rise to various readings, regarding social network marketing, social marketing and third sector management. It has also generated the usual ethical criticism of the limits to NGO fundraising: the participants don’t learn anything about the cause, they participate for essentially selfish reasons dressed up as altruism, and they do it to look good for their friends. It’s just slacktivism, a feel-good way to support a cause whose only positive effects are on the participants themselves. Welcome to the world of real people.
The Ice Bucket Challenge reminds us how to create value based on insights into people. People like simplicity (all they need is a mobile phone and a friend to film them). They use social media to amplify their narcissism. They want to do good if it makes them feel good, if it’s cool. People are motivated by and participate in activities like milking and neknomination. We climb on board the latest meme so long as it can be personalized, so long as it doesn’t require us to sacrifice our own identity, but rather lets us project it instead. Fun, easy, popular.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is not a sustainable fundraising strategy for the third sector: no organization can survive on sporadic viral online campaigns. However, the market-oriented approach is sustainable: creating value for people, offering activities that create value for them, accepting the mediocrity of human nature, so long as whatever we do is in keeping with our organization’s vision and values.
There are three approaches to the Ice Bucket Challenge: criticize people for disguising their narcissism as altruism, design promotions willing to “take the money wherever it comes from”, or learn about insights into people to increase the value our cause can create. Which one do you choose?