Many communicators are talking about the Ice Bucket Challenge, and many brands wonder if they can participate.
Of course they can. Many celebrities, CEOs and executives are doing it. It shows them in a more human way; they’re doing something fun instead of being all buttoned up.
The real question is whether you should participate in the challenge.
The Ice Bucket Challenge benefits the ALS Association. Unless your company has a real tie to ALS—e.g. an employee suffers from ALS, or you’re a sports organization like Major League Baseball—think carefully before engaging in the challenge.
It would be better to engage in a cause marketing effort that can impact your brand.
For example, if you are a technology company, you may want to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. If you are a food company, feed the hungry.
This is a major issue with real-time marketing. Too many brands sacrifice their messaging integrity to be part of a trend that doesn’t relate to their business. One has to wonder what the short-term attention will get them in the long run.
Can you create your own challenge?
Businesses can create their own challenges. If you consider that Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race have built an industry around the physical challenge, then the Ice Bucket Challenge is simple. For folks who are old enough, the Pepsi Challenge in the ’70s and ’80s was a non-charitable, much simpler one-on-one product competition that created some momentum.
The Ice Bucket Challenge’s simplicity and relatively low pain factor are what make it such a viral phenomenon. My former colleague, Beth Kanter, made a great point about the challenge: It’s a feel-good event in a time when the news is flat-out depressing.
Plus, challenging your friends is extra incentive. I’ve heard several people lament that they haven’t been asked to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.
People like have fun with their friends. If an activity can benefit a charity and give people’s social media profiles a little lift, it’s even more likely to take off.
In short, if it’s fun and chat-worthy, people do it.
Will cause marketing help your challenge succeed?
Cause marketing helps, but is not necessary for an online challenge. The challenge just needs to be fun and something people will talk about and want to do. The charitable aspect makes it easy to share and more attractive to do.
Here are some tips to help you engage consumers in a similar campaign:
1. Make the activity quick and easy. Ask people for no more than a minute of their time.
2. Ensure the activity is fun and clearly benefits someone. Helping a cause or friend is obvious. Discovering a new food or something of the like is a stretch, but achievable.
3. Don’t make the activity marketing centric. The brand elements must be ancillary, not the primary aspect of the effort.
4. Create strong, catchy, shareable hashtags. #IceBucket works a lot better than #ALSBucket. Many people don’t know what ALS is, but the challenge may engage and educate them.
The most important thing about any kind of challenge is to set reasonable expectations. A marketing campaign’s virility is often hit or miss. For every Bat Kid, Ice Bucket Challenge or Oreo Super Bowl ad there are millions of failures.
Build the best campaign you can that serves your brand and its audiences. Then measure how your core stakeholder groups respond.
What do you think?
A version of this article originally appeared on the Vocus blog.