How to Duplicate the Viral Success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Kerry McManama headshotBy Kerry H. McManama

What began several months ago as a challenge among friends has engaged more than 2.4 million people via the power of social media and earned more than $41 million for a worthy cause. Why has the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge gone viral? Here are five key elements you can use to engage and excite people—and duplicate this super-successful cause marketing initiative.

Recipe for Viral Success

1. Make it fun. What’s more fun than dumping a bucket of ice cold water on your family, friends, and colleagues? That’s what Pete Frates, who linked the Ice Bucket Challenge to raising awareness and money for ALS, must have realized. Connecting people through the act of play is easy and natural.

2. Keep it simple. Got water, ice, a bucket, a smartphone and a social media account? You’re in. No fancy tools or systems are required to be a winner at this game. When thinking of an activity for people to do to support your initiative, remember that they’re more likely to try it if they already have the equipment they need to be successful.

3. Give it a face. Whether you’ve been focused on Pete Frates, Pat Quinn or a friend or family member who’s been struck by Lou Gehrig’s disease, now we all know someone suffering from ALS. Including a personal ambassador to your challenge will help people connect with the “Who?” and the “Why?” behind the action you’re asking them to take.

4. Employ peer pressure. If you haven’t received the ominous Facebook tag and admonition, “You have 24 hours to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge,” you’re probably next. When people’s “friends are doing it,” they’re likely to get involved, too. Offer simple talking points, so participants can provide quick, clear explanations. And don’t forget the hashtags! Make them clear and easy to remember, like #IceBucketChallenge and #StrikeOutALS.

5. Use your leaders. Oprah Winfrey doused herself in her garden. The New England Patriots covered their practice field with ice. Bill Gates made his own Ice Bucket Challenge pulley system, for goodness sake! Never underestimate the power of well-known, respected people to motivate others to act.


Kerry H. McManama is senior director, experience strategy at George P. Johnson. A communications leader, she is also a children’s book author and contributor to Huffington Post.


  • Wendy

    How was the actual donation of funds captured? What kept people from opting out to “I’ll just dump a bucket of ice water I don’t have any cash”