Charity is great. Anytime we can get people to help other people, it is, without a doubt, great. My undergraduate years at Boston College taught me that (“Men and women for others!”).
But the Ice Bucket Challenge – the current craze sweeping social media begun by the family of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates (GO EAGLES!), who at the age of 29 is battling the debilitating disease commonly known as ALS – is one seriously confusing way to get people to help other people, and I think we might need to pour a bit of cold water on this hot new fad before anyone else goes and pours a bucket of cold water on their currently-dry head.
To bring you up to speed, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a descendant of the Special Olympics’s infamous Passion Plunge in which brave souls run fearlessly into a very cold body of water (Fun fact: the Boston College Rugby Team proudly runs into the ocean in Revere, Massachusetts every year, those charitable fellows). However, since not everyone is insane to run into hypothermia-inducing bodies of water, charities have evolved the practice into a system where a person is “challenged” to either donate $50-$100 to a specific charity OR they can pour a tub of ice water over their head and only donate $10-$20.
While it would be fun to nitpick the logic that this system encourages people to donate less money, there’s a bigger concern to address:
Everyone is doing it wrong.
Video after video that’s invading your News Feed most likely shows the following:
– a casual acquaintance of yours saying that they have been challenged to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS
– them pouring ice in a bucket of water and proceeding to dunk said water on their head
– them “challenging” three of their friends to do the same, giving them 24 hours to do accomplish the challenge
All the while, there is someone from the Team Frates marketing department spending the rest of eternity with their face in their palm, because aside from the #StrikeOutALS and #TeamFrates hashtags that adorn the videos, there is usually zero mention of what this Challenge actually is, why them pouring ice over their heads is helping to stop ALS, or even where and how others can learn more/donate.
Here’s a well-publicized video of Boston Bruin Brad Marchand doing the Ice Bucket Challenge:
Here’s a video of fellow Boston College alum and current NFL QB Matt Ryan doing it:
And here’s a video of Michelle Wie, the only professional female golfer most people can name, freaking out about it:
Did you notice how none of these highly-publicized, widely-shared videos actually mention the important details about the Ice Bucket Challenge or how to learn more about ALS or how to donate?
One of the first rules in marketing is “make it easy.”
Make it easy for people to Like your Facebook page, make it easy for them to distinguish your brand from your competitors, but most importantly, make it easy for them to spread your message effectively. Forcing someone to Google #StrikeOutALs because they’re confused and might think this charity supports pitchers who go up against Albert Pujols and Alfonso Sorioano is not effective marketing.
We shouldn’t have to rely on people like fellow 2009 Boston College graduate Louisa Moller putting together informative news bits for FoxCT about the Challenge and how it relates to ALS; the people obsessed with this for-a-good-cause version of Tebowing should be doing that. Otherwise this is just a fun, well-intentioned marketing ploy that doesn’t accomplish as much as it could in the fight to raise money against ALS.
Boston College students are taught to “set the world aflame” once they leave the glorious world of Chestnut Hill, and the exponential popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge is proof that we Eagles know how to get people excited about being “men and women for others,” but as we continue to promote the Ice Bucket Challenge, let’s make sure we’re actually promoting the cause and not just the fact that we’ve convinced people to pour ice water over their heads because #charity.
Speaking of (and so I don’t look like a hypocrite), to learn more about ALS and how you can help those affected by it, click here.
Update (on 8/8): I got challenged. I answered the challenged.
An earlier version of this article was originally posted on The Daily Banter on August 6, 2014