#IceBucketChallenge – a headache from listening?

After taking an interest in the evolution of the #IceBucketChallenge over the past few weeks, I read @LondonKirsty‘s blog on @GuardianVoluntary asking the question: when can a charity hijack a hashtag? (It’s great, go and read it). What’s just as interesting are the 60+ comments on the blog, and the variety of opinion/justification/reason for this @macmillancancer ‘hijack’ being a good or a bad thing from a whole host of fundraisers within organisations, fundraisers and supporters of the charities involved and industry professionals.

It got me thinking; having very recently left the third sector, I wonder if how I’m viewing this would be different if I was still working for a charity. There may well have been a small part of me that was jealous that @macmillancancer could generate such great traction with their supporters online leading to more income generation to support the work they do.Survived_tcm9-22038

My feelings are that @macmillancancer are getting some unfair flack for their digital team reacting quickly to #IceBucketChallenge, they have listened to what their supporters were saying on social media, identified it as an opportunity like #nomakeupselfie, reacted and amplified the activity to share with a wider audience. A great use of social media – harnessing the power of their supporters, both online and offline. And quick work.

But wasn’t the negative reaction they are receiving from some people always on the cards? Surely they would have seen some coming their way? Perhaps not to the scale we are currently seeing.

Why is this any different to other online campaigns?

We’ve seen #nomakeupselfie raise huge amounts of money through the use of an organic ‘digital supporter movement’. Other charities missed out on that fundraising opportunity and the conversations happening online around it (arguably just as important to keep your supporters coming back to fundraise for you). Charities saw that they had to adapt and be ready for when the next #nomakeupselfie hit – or they’d be missing out on a big opportunity  – Macmillan’s Head of Digital @amandaneylon said it herself in this blog recently (the comments on there are just as interesting).

#IceBucketChallenge (alongside #ThumbsUpForStephen) is the online campaign with the biggest traction since #nomakeupselfie – in fact it’s bigger – and it’s raised loads already. The #nomakeupselfie movement had spin-offs like #makeupselfie / #manupandmakeup and even #cockinasock, all raising money for different charities, and not all cancer related. How many charities have benefitted form the #IceBucketChallenge overall? And how many of them thought about how they could increase that and get more of their supporters to do it? I would say the majority.

Judging by the negative reaction @macmillancancer are seeing from some to the #IceBucketChallenge, people aren’t comfortable with a hashtag/campaign/movement being hijacked. But is it something we’re just going to have to get used to?

I think this sort of activity online is going to become the norm and (probably already) a bigger thought within digital teams. Unfortunately in turn, with more organisations doing it and looking for that viral success, it’s likely to become less impactful for charities.

What we must remember is that all of these big money raising social movements have started and ended with the fundraiser, they’ve determined the length and the pace at which it spreads, so surely all charities, like @macmillancancer, are doing is listening to their audience?

My question is: if this negativity towards @macmillancancer continues, and more supporters start to raise concerns around their activity, will they continue to listen and as a result be reluctant to be so creative and reactive online in the future?


What do you think about other charities getting involved with the #IceBucketChallenge? Leave a comment or tweet me @willdotbarker.


10 thoughts on “#IceBucketChallenge – a headache from listening?

  1. Macmillan is advertising on google for “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” and “MND Ice Bucket Challenge” and using the names of celebrity ALS challenge supporters in their press releases. I’d like to know how the author feels about that.

    • Hi Rob, thanks for your comment.

      Reading the releases, the way they’ve used the celebrity names doesn’t directly associate them with their fundraising, but it does with the #IceBucketChallenge, I think this makes it more ambiguous than it needs to be, but any person who then watched any of those videos would know who the celebrity was donating to. A bit naughty.

      As for the Ad Words, Macmillan have said they are defaulted terms, they only paid for #IceBucketChallenge, no other charity names. I think this is another example of a comprehensive digital strategy to maximise their messaging, but again, surely they could have seen the fall out of non-organic channels for promotion.

      What are your thoughts on it?

  2. I think MacMillan would get annoyed if I tried to organise ‘the world’s biggest coffee morning’ for anyone else. But they don’t ‘own’ coffee mornings or record attempts. Is that fair game?
    You also have to ask if their creatives are giving the organisation value for money if their best idea is to jump on someone else’s bandwagon then kick the original drivers off and say it’s their wagon.
    When I worked in a charity comms team I always produced original work and took pride in it.

    • Hi Jon,

      I’d say that they are giving value for money. It’s an open bandwagon, owned by no-one, that their supporters were already jumping on – they saw the potential and capitalised and it’s raised over £3m for them, costing very little as well. In my opinion, that wouldn’t have happened without the team stepping in and amplifying the messaging.

      For me, these types of fundraising ideas won’t work if it’s not the fundraiser driving it from the beginning, so while I agree original ideas are really important for charities like Macmillan, I think it’s equally important to know when you can enhance and build on an idea with momentum, and you can be just as proud of that.

      • They have set a precedent though. They can’t complain if someone else produces a leaflet in their colours. That had better not be a standard font either.
        I still think they lack originality and the way they have taken over this thing in the UK is slightly on the shady side. It may bite them. I wonder if they considered that in their rush to book the google Adwords.

  3. Go for it Macmillan! I was annoyed to see people doing the ALS challenge in the UK without the slightest mention about the UK charity… Macmillan took the idea & made it better- they weren’t just asking you to avoid giving to a little heard of charity by dumping water on your head, they used texts- another digital medium to make it easier to donate & more fun if you wanted to ‘wuss out’ you could forfeit for a tenner. Macmillan weren’t about celebrities and hundred dollar bills, they were about £3 & a bucket of water (Ps be careful about the challenge & have fun, cause we are loving your faces).
    I’d rather give to MS in the UK & Macmillan & I’m glad the door was opened for me not to feel guilty in supporting a charity I chose if I poured a bucket of water on my head, not just jumping on the ALS bandwagon. I truly believe there are a LOT of people out there who are no better informed about ALS than they were before they did the #IceBucketChallenge

  4. Excellent blog Will, I think because it was copied so quickly, the original ILS message has been lost.

    The idea has been hijacked, which is fine as nobody owns the idea, the dissapointing thing is Macmillan did not allow another charities message through.

    I wonder what the response would be if another charity did the worlds largest coffee morning.

    Unfortualy a line has been crossed on this occasion

  5. I have to agree with Carmel. Before the celebrities got involved, I saw a lot of people taking part in the #icebucketchallenge with no charity motive what so ever. I would probably imagine all of them had never heard of ALS/MND – I hadn’t heard of it before this campaign.

    I think the Macmillan digital team did really well to jump on it. As a bigger charity, they had the advertising resources to throw at it and gain from it with a quick turnaround – they saw a perfect opportunity for donations and jumped. The MND charity took a little longer cotton on and I truly believe the UK MND’s donations have been mainly thanks to celebrity, TV and viral publicity.

    Not only this but I have also seen various people donating to other charities, some people have donated to BHF, some have donated to a local hospice etc. It’s up to that specific person to donate to who they want to donate to. When I took part, I still donated to Macmillan even after learning about ALS. Cancer is one of the biggest killers and sadly you’re more likely to know someone who dies from cancer than ALS. Having previous support of Macmillan I felt the need to support them back.

    On the other hand, yes it was slightly naughty of Macmillan to steal the spotlight for a little while.

    Will, I think you are absolutely right, these campaigns are going to loose their charity impact. “I nominate you to smash an egg on your head”.

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