I'm sure marketers are already hard at work trying to duplicate this remarkable phenomena. Most will fail. Because before we can consider the How we must understand the Why. In this case the key Why is:
Why are people participating and sharing for a cause with which they did not previously affiliate?
- The chain letter effect.
People share chain letters because they don't want to be the one that breaks the chain. Particularly when it comes to charitable efforts, people often take the desired action to gain the personal satisfaction, or at the very least to avoid the plague of guilt associated with breaking the chain.
In this particular campaign, making friends nominate others ensured that the chain would grow exponentially with each generation of participation.
- Social accountability.
People are more committed to charity when they know others are paying attention. While some could view this as vain, I'm not inclined to judge others (particularly when their actions are for a good cause). A philanthropist once wrote that he put his name on his favorite causes because it encouraged personal responsibility from himself, and pushed others to do the same.
By making posting to a video to social media the means of engagement, this campaign got all of us to stand behind a cause most of us had never previously encountered.
And while the "rules" of this campaign stipulated that taking the challenge absolved the participant from charitable obligations, I'm pretty that most of us read between the lines and gave something anyway.
- It's fun.
As a teen, I spent five glorious summers as a lifeguard. There is no prank so consistently hilarious as getting people soaking wet, particularly when the water is insanely cold. The visceral scream is a guaranteed laugh-out-loud moment, every time. And there is no better time to get insanely cold and wet for a good cause, than August.
But most importantly, this campaign was successful not just because it was hot or because the act of participation was hilarious to friends in attendance when the act was done. This campaign was successful because everyone wants to see their friends screaming their asses off when they take the plunge - especially when it's on video and can be watched over and over again. It's just good, clean, fun.
- Second movers.
Most campaigns that ask users to film themselves will fail miserably. Because most of us do not want to stand in front of a camera and make a statement to the world - otherwise we would all have YouTube channels. Very few people want to be the first to do something foolish in front of a camera, and fewer want to share that foolish moment with the world.
In this case, whether it was through celebrities, friends or friends-of-friends, most of us had already seen enough social-validation to make our decision to participate in this trend fairly easy. We weren't the first into the pool at the party, but we had a great time jumping in.
- Personal expression.
By the time I was nominated to participate in this trend, I had already seen far too many Ice Bucket Challenge videos. Like so many of you, I felt that I had to come up with something new or different. Nobody wants to share just another "me too" video. And so, as this campaign has grown, so has the creativity of those participating. The videos - from both celebrities and normals - have become far more entertaining.
And as the bar is raised higher and higher, everyone wins.