ALS Ice Buckets Challenge Branding Conventions, Too

The phenomenal success of the Ice Bucket Challenge has proven a gold mine for  ALS research, however it’s equally valuable as a case study for effective marketing and branding practices.

The obvious marketing lesson of the ALS campaign, like that other one featuring plastic yellow bracelets from a few years back, is that actively engaging consumers – allowing them to brand themselves socially-conscious, in this case – is at the core of effective messaging, and if you can inspire them to participate in the process, all the better.

The less intuitive lesson that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge may have taught us, or at least reinforced, is that consumer participation can prove as powerful as consumer identification.

In branding, the goal is to tap into consumer emotions, to motivate them not with product or service virtues, but rather with a set of values they want to identify with. Since products or services can be outdone at any moment by a competitors’, an emotional connection to a brand is crucial to maintaining brand loyalty.

The ALS campaign doesn’t do this, however. The videos going viral aren’t those of suffering victims or their courageous families; they’re of smiling people dumping water on their heads. In short, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t attempt to move people emotionally, but rather physically.

The longevity of the ALS Campaign, however, is limited in the same way that the enthusiasm, say, for a new version of the iPhone is. The novelty will wear off, and unless ALS organizations manage to ride the wave of the Ice Bucket Challenge with other initiatives, the disease will probably fade back into obscurity for those not directly effected by it. This isn’t pointed to be a downer, but rather to pay credence to the emotional backbone of good branding: without a strong connection, you won’t go far.

With that said, the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge may change branding practices a little. In addition to going after the heart, we might begin aiming more for the feet as well.

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