5 Content Lessons Your Business Can Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge

Unless you live in a volcano, you’ve probably heard of the ice bucket challenge (and if you do live in a volcano, it could probably do you some good). What you may not have thought about is what the ice bucket challenge can teach you about your marketing campaign.

Just in case you don’t know about this phenomenon, the ice bucket challenge is simple: when someone tags you, you can either dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100 to ALS research. In the wake of the viral success of the challenge, it seems a lot of people have opted to do both.

Content Marketing with a Purpose

No matter what business you’re in, you need to have content that targets your intended audience. If you have nothing to show your audience—whether it be articles, videos, infographics, white papers, etc.—then you won’t be able to convince anyone to buy your product or use your service.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 60% of businesses plan to spend more on content marketing this year. Before pouring more money into content marketing, you first need to know what you plan to get out of it.

The ice bucket challenge is content marketing at its finest. The goals were clear from the beginning: increase awareness and drive more donations. Mission accomplished. The challenge quickly went viral, and donations to ALS charities skyrocketed.

Even though dumping a bucket of ice water on your head seems to have absolutely nothing to do with ALS, the challenge has certainly had an impact on awareness of the disease. According to Google Trends, interest in ALS is at an all-time high this month (as is interest in "ice bucket challenge"):


Of course, for every piece of viral content, there are a million pieces that are barely seen by anyone. Your business may not need something quite as big as the ice bucket challenge. For you, a successful piece of content may result in an increase in interested customers or more sales. Or it might simply increase brand awareness. A piece of content doesn’t necessarily have to immediately lead to more money.

5 Content Marketing Lessons

So what exactly does the ice bucket teach us? Here are five lessons about content marketing that we can take away:

1. Content Needs to Be Unique

One of the reasons the ice bucket challenge is a success is because there is nothing else like it. Copycat ideas generally don’t perform well. In the world of the internet, most things don’t last long. Eventually, people will get tired of having Facebook feeds filled with videos of people pouring ice water on themselves. They won't want to fill this content void with the "milk bucket challenge" or the "beer bucket challenge."

On the other hand, if you came up with the Boiling Bucket Challenge, then people might be interested again.

2. Content Doesn’t Have to Be Complex

There is the false notion in the world of content marketing that every piece of content has to be huge. Articles need to be 2,000 words and filled with incredible infographics. Videos have to be created by world-class directors using the finest video equipment money can buy. The ice bucket challenge shows just how incorrect these ideas are. I've yet to hear anyone complain about the grainy video quality of the ice bucket challenge. Content can be simple and short while still sending the message.

3. User-Generated Content Can Be a Big Hit

There is an increasing trust developing in user-generated content. In our world of social media, people like seeing content created by their friends and “normal” people. From video testimonials to everyday images of customers using your product, look for opportunities for your users to create the content for you. The ice bucket challenge isn't viral because the same video is being shared over and over. Instead, it's filled with thousands and thousands of unique pieces of content created by users. Ultimately though, all of these videos serve the same purpose: to increase awareness about ALS.

4. Content Can Target Emotions

Content doesn’t always have to be dry and “professional.” The ice bucket challenge works so well because of the emotional weight. On the one hand, we feel sympathy for people suffering from ALS. On the other hand, we get to laugh at our idiot friends dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. However, the emotions have to be real. If your business released a video telling people to dump ice water on their heads or buy your latest product, you probably wouldn’t generate any new sales.

5. Content Needs a Clear Call to Action

The ice bucket challenge never tried to hide its message. From the beginning, the call to action was clear: donate money. While some have argued that the slew of videos suggests people are opting to dump water on themselves rather than donate, there’s no denying the success of the campaign. Donations to ALS charities have been staggering this year. The ALS Association reports that the ice bucket challenge has helped generate $31.5 million in donations since July 29th, compared to just $1.9 million last year during the same period. Content that can produce even a fraction of that increase is a huge success.

So How Do I Make My Content Go Viral?

None of this means that your business needs to create a viral challenge to succeed. Instead, the ice bucket challenge reaffirms what we should be doing all along: creating content with a clear purpose. Whether the content you create is to inform users about the importance of your services, increase awareness about your new product, share news about your industry, or promote brand authority, you need to make sure you have a clear goal.

After all, if you are just creating content for the sake of creating content, then you will be left out in the cold.


First Scribe is now Perrill Why the change?