PANEL: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The team at TORQUE Strategies and sister company TwentyTen Group were challenged this week to join the fight against ALS, and brave the icy waters of the social movement that has taken over our digital airwaves (see Andrea, Peter and Mitch take the plunge here). The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has set new standards for the term ‘viral’ for our industry, so we asked a few of our teammates who accepted the challenge the following question.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has propelled the cause to new heights of awareness and funds raised – though not without a few bumps in the road. What can causes learn from this campaign?

Andrea_Shaw_web101 ANDREA J. SHAW – Founder & Managing Partner

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is an absolutely brilliant initiative – and an exceptional example of a disruptive, social activation that compelled people from all walks of life to join the movement.

The campaign’s roots hit remarkably close to home for me, as my daughter is a varsity student athlete at Boston College – the birthplace of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Launched in honour of former Boston College baseball star Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS just a few years ago, the challenge began as a campus-wide awareness campaign and grew to exponential proportions as media, professional athletes and celebrities caught the wave and passed it along.

In today’s market, causes have a mountain to climb to vie for attention and wallet share.  Without available budget for marketing and media, it is difficult to wade through the clutter and amplify your message beyond your immediate community of supporters. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a social tidal wave – gathering speed through the interwoven webs of our digital world.

What can we learn from this?

  • Never underestimate the power of community.
    – Nurture it
    – Engage with it
    – Leverage it – in an authentic and meaningful way
  • Your community is looking for a way to feel connected to something that matters.
    We’re bombarded by commercial messages every day – make yours engaging, meaningful, and moving
  • With awareness comes responsibility.
    The tens of millions of dollars raised to-date will move mountains for ALS research – and I can’t wait to see what the ALS Association does to build the next layer of this story


Bill_Cooper_web101 BILL COOPER – Chief Operating Partner

Just add water.

A box of cake mix is a box of cake mix, but a cake is something people want to take a bite of. So add water, bake with care and share. Too often a cause or a property demand or plead for support / investment on the grounds that they do good and deserve investment or contributions. They shake their box of cake mix and ask that people give or invest on the basis of what could be. In this case, ALS nurtured an idea that was informally and spontaneously cultivated by one of their stakeholders and they have had the courage to allow it to weave its own path as dictated by the consumers it resonates with. In this manner the powerful story of ALS has reached new audiences through an accessible, spontaneous, interactive and authentic campaign. It brought interactivity and relevance to a powerful story that had been distant and out of reach to many. And by providing a relatively simple and fun call to action; a suddenly hugely expanded audience was willing to add water. So one lesson to other causes and properties is; don’t satisfy yourself with what might be a powerful story, be constantly innovating, thinking and discovering ways to make it relevant to a larger audience.

Just add water.

And don’t wait for the next wave.

Another lesson from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is the importance of staying nimble and ready to leverage unexpected opportunity. If budgets had been so tight, distractions so many and resources so thin that ALS had chosen not to support and nurture this campaign they would have missed riding quite an amazing wave. This lesson cannot be understated because as a wave (or opportunity) approaches it is not always obvious how good it will be. The key is to be always nimble, humble and courageous. Nimble enough to adapt on the fly. Humble enough to not assume that hard won practices, policies and traditions you have in place can’t necessarily be improved upon. And courageous enough to catch the wave that is in front of you rather than missing it in the hope of catching a better one or because resources don’t currently ‘allow’.

I suspect ALS is glad they didn’t wait for the next wave.

(Bill Cooper was nominated by Andrea Shaw to complete the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – check out his response here).


Peter_Gardner_web101 PETER GARDNER – Senior Partnership Architect & Insights Development


Since the end of July marketers and prominent business pundits have been pouring over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Most have been dissecting the reasons why the social media campaign has exploded into a full blown pop culture phenomenon and tracking daily social media and fundraising results in celebration of the campaign’s success. But others have been rather harsh in their assessment of what has  transpired over the last month, writing off millions of tweets and icy cold YouTube shrieks as narcissism and slacktivism at its finest.

Normally not one to shy away from the critical perspective, I have to admit that I’m on the side of the angels on this one. And, whether you may choose to define the campaign as a success or a failure one thing is certain: the #ALSIceBucketChallenge broke through in a BIG and UNDENIABLE way.

With $94 million raised to date and 2.1 million new donors added to the database I can’t help but feel optimistic about today’s fundraising landscape. Although there is a lot to be learned here, this campaign, to me, seems to have set a new watermark for millennial consumers in particular. Not only did they live up to their reputation as heavy social media users who want to share and congregate online (all while having some fun, I might add). But, I think, millennials also proved that they are willing to put their money where their heart is.

The millennial cohort is complex and fickle to be sure, but this serves as a good reminder that they are too often dismissed for being narcissistic and not often enough celebrated for being aspirational and socially conscious like the generations before them.

Mitch_Gudgeon_web101 MITCH GUDGEON – Consultant & Strategy Development

#1 – The Power of Social Media:  Social Media has the ability for the average person to access hundreds and thousands of people with a single tweet, post or share. By producing powerful content and sharing it through these channels, causes can access and influence those in their network who will then share this content through their own networks. In the case of ALS, the viral nature of the campaign was accelerated by celebrities and social influencers.

#2 – Changing “The Ask”: This is one of the most important aspects of the success of the campaign. Causes excel by their ability to raise funds; however, sometimes this need for cash clouds their “ask” to donors. Donors give money to be a part of something they believe in and to feel good about their actions, not because they just want to depart from their money. By engaging the potential donor by changing “the ask” to dumping a bucket of ice water on their head, people enjoyed taking part in the challenge. And by feeling good about taking part, more people donated because they felt like they were a part of something positive and important!

#3 – Making It Simple and Fun: People love watching others reactions in videos and will sit for hours on YouTube doing this. By creating a challenge that was simple to execute people were able to take part, enjoy the experience and feel like they’ve done something good for society at the same time.