The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

When Radical Is Sensible …
August 20, 2014, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So you may have noticed there’s this thing called the ice-bucket challenge going all over the internet at the moment.

Bill Gates has done it.

Mr Amazon has done it.

Even Oprah has done it.

Underpinning all this mayhem is a very simple goal, to raise awareness – and funds – for ALS [Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis], which is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Some people have quite rightly pointed out that throwing a bucket of ice cold water over yourself won’t cure the disease and the reason for it’s appeal is that we live in a narcissistic society and people enjoy being able to be the centre of attention.

And you know what, they’re absolutely right – but for me, they’re missing the bigger point.

You see ALS is a disease with little awareness and almost zero funding.

In fact, if you read this article, you’ll see that even some doctors aren’t aware of what ALS stands for.

The reality is the people at knew they had to do something that would force their way into the public’s consciousness because for years, nothing has changed.

This is a major achievement in itself because very few people or companies can look at themselves with blunt honesty and clarity. The temptation to ‘soften’ or ‘reframe’ is always very seductive but in the cold light of day, the people at ALS knew things weren’t moving in the right direction as quickly as desired. Or needed.

As the old quote goes, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result … so even though the people at ALS knew they would be opening themselves up to ridicule and judgement, they felt they had nothing to lose so created a radical – yet fun – idea that would [hopefully] tap into societies narcissistic desires while being directly linked to their specific cause.

Could it have failed?

Oh definitely … but for me, this wasn’t a brave strategy, it was the most sensible thing they could do and the result is they’ve already had more success than most social media campaigns that have been carefully planned, managed and executed by highly paid, social media gurus could ever hope to achieve.

Plus they’ve raised an estimated 10 million dollars in a matter of weeks.

Yes, 10 million.

Which means they’ve achieved more than just awareness, they’ve actually made a massive economic difference to their ‘business’ … a level of effectiveness that arguably sweeps most communication case studies aside because going from zero funding and awareness to something of global significance – in just a matter of weeks – is something you can’t ignore.

Now of course adland – especially social media agencies – will use this as an example of what social campaigns can achieve, but yet again, they’ll be missing the point.

Apart from the fact little they’ve done has ever achieved this level of engagement and effectiveness – the reality is the ice bucket challenges’ success is because of the idea, not because it was something that ran on social channels.

Don’t get me wrong, the medium has definitely contributed to its success but it’s success is not purely down to the fact this idea was executed in that particular medium and I am fed up of this bullshit myth being perpetuated that social is the most effective way for a brand to communicate when the harsh reality is the majority of ‘campaigns’ put out by companies and agencies are actively ignored rather than consciously embraced.

As I – and my Mum – have banged on for years, if you want to make a difference, be meaningful, not social.

People don’t engage or pass things on because a brand wants them to, they engage and pass things on when an idea or subject or story interests and intrigues them which is why the best social campaigns are social as a byproduct of an idea, not a commercial ambition.

Anyway, the reason for all this is that I was recently ‘tagged’ by a colleague of mins and so I took part and I donated some money.

It would be good if you joined in too.

47 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Excellent post Robert, really good. You should write more things like this. It is interesting, informed and helps give clarity and direction to situations that will be relevant to many planners. Your ice bucket soaking is less impressive. All that screaming for a few ice cubes and water. Overly dramatic.

Comment by George

Stop encouraging him George.

Comment by DH

You’ll be happy to know I’ve been re-challenged so I might try and be a bit more macho on the next one. Emphasis on the word “try”.

Comment by Rob

I hope your Mum is doing well.

Comment by George


Comment by DH


Comment by Bazza

Thanks. So far so good. A bit to go though …

Comment by Rob

The fact people want to ignore is that ideas trump media distribution, not the other way around. Plenty of ads can effectively show that you can buy your way into people’s screens but that won’t make them pay attention to your shit. Unfortunately, as you said, social media bullshitters will use this as a pitch for more cash to be dilapidated into their useless schemes.

Comment by Miguel

Depends on your business. There are many brands out there who need distribution more than ideas. But I hate social media people so I won’t go on.

Comment by DH

Just realised you were talking media distribution not distribution. Still don’t entirely agree. It’s less one better than the other and more about them being co dependents.

Comment by DH

who the fuck are you with all this sensible answer shit? get back to talking your usual bollocks immediately.

Comment by andy@cynic

It won’t happen again.

Comment by DH

I didn’t see this coming

Comment by Miguel

Either did I. What has happened to you Dave?

Comment by Rob

What’s even scarier is that I agree with your ‘co-dependent’ versus ‘one better than the other’ comment. Which is why I’ve always felt agencies should go back to full agency – but until they can make as much money as being separate, I don’t think we’ll see it on mass for a while. Unless clients start moving their business that is.

Comment by Rob

Yes, Dave is right. Media distribution and ideas are both basic ingredients for any kind of success.
I’m still in state of shock.

Comment by Miguel

Even with that amateur ice bucket shower you’re still not as wet as you are emotionally.

Comment by DH

that ice bucket was fucking pathetic campbell. youd only get a little wet. just like all your ex girlfriends used to.

Comment by andy@cynic

Ha Ha Ha. My sides. My sides.

Comment by Rob

you forgot to mention the other narcissistic bollocks this idea taps in to. showing all the cool and influential fucking friends you have. though you were pretty fucking restrained in yours given all the bastards youve starfucked over the years but im guessing you knew theyd just ignore you because the last thing their career needs is being associated with you.

Comment by andy@cynic

Rick Astley isn’t famous anymore.

Comment by DH

or the fucking local radio presenter from his home town but it doesnt stop him talking about them like theyre fucking elvis. twat.

Comment by andy@cynic

I ruined both their careers.

Comment by Rob

The list is endless.

Comment by DH

I don’t get what all the hype is about. Ive been throwing ice buckets filled with vodka over my face for 10 years.

Comment by Billy Whizz

As ever, nothing’s as it seems.

See this from June which had nothing to do with ALS.

Comment by john

I don’t think ALS would claim they were the originator of people pouring ice over themselves John. But ALS have leveraged this to successfully draw attention and funds to their cause which is why I feel arguing about its originality is irrelevant.

Comment by George

I’ve been pouring ice and vodka over my face for decades. Do you think I can sue ALS George? I’ll accept 10% of their 10 mill to walk away quietly.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I wasn’t arguing about originality. Just pointing out that the reason for ALS gaining most traction with the idea needs more investigation. On the other hand, it proves that social media was clearly not the key.

Comment by john

Everything needs a trigger. Sometimes that is planned, sometimes that is luck. Whatever it was for ALS, it has set a benchmark few social media experts will ever achieve.

Comment by Bazza

Sorry, I misunderstood your comment. I agree there will be many factors that will have contributed to its success and I look forward to reading the post rationalised case studies and claimed ownership/inspiration in the trade press over the coming months.

Comment by George

Oh yes, the claims of ownership are going to be insane. Don’t get me wrong, some of it can be planned … but no one – regardless what they may say – could forsee this level of success which is why I just wish people in adland would just acknowledge that when a campaign is super-successful [not just successful] it was 25% planned, 75% down to luck and timing.

But that doesn’t win awards or pay rises which is why we’ll continue to see people claiming to be gurus even though they will never achieve the heights they said they planned for, again.

They could learn a lot from Mr A.C. Man … remember him George? What a legend.

Comment by Rob

I think you once wrote that charities are in a more competitive environment than brands. What I like about the ALS campaign is they have achieved mass exposure with little investment which has the added benefit of making me feel they are more focused on finding a cure than raising funds to advertise their cause. I could be wrong, but it worked on me.

Comment by Bazza

Good point. Hadn’t thought of that … but it’s why I like this more than I like the Hard Rock thing I wrote about a while back:

It is also why I like the IKEA thing I wrote about a while back [] … where you feel their intentions are genuine rather than desperately trying to look good by association.

Comment by Rob

That’s awesome. Suddenly mine looks semi-decent.

Comment by Rob

The insights and strategy you highlight are clear, relevant and decisive but your point about organisations needing to judge their performance without self interest is the most pertinent. Very true but hard to do which is why you were so annoyingly handy to have around. Excellent post.

Comment by Lee Hill

so youre admitting you found campbell an annoying little fuck. welcome to my world.

Comment by andy@cynic

Lovely back-handed compliment there Lee. Thanks. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Nice analysis Rob, sharp as ever.
Jerry C in São Paulo, where in the midst of a water crisis, the bucket challenge hasn’t “quite” caught the imagination

Comment by Jerry

I’ve begun to see people questioning the use of water given that many charities are working with people who are literally dying for some.

Comment by john

Which, in turn, craetes more publicity to the ALS cause while raising awareness for the water cause.

Comment by Miguel

Have you seen this?

Sad news. Ironic news.

The amount raised so far ($22 million) is his greatest legacy.

Comment by Pete

I thought this was from the onion when I first saw it.

Comment by DH

[…] Like the ice bucket challenge showed us, if you have tried for years to change something to no avail, sometimes the most radical decisions are the most sensible. […]

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