I was going to title this article “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” but it was already taken.
The growth in awareness of and financial support for ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is inspiring. In fact, the ALS Association has over one million new donors and has increased its year-over-year donations 30 fold at the time this was written.
What is it about this campaign that made it take off, and what’s fear got to do with it? The ALS Association’s past efforts are similar to many other foundations that face the challenge of raising both awareness and money to fix an important problem. Those include walkathons and fundraisers with compassion-seeking stories of people affected by various diseases or afflictions. These are all excellent activities.
However, the Ice Bucket Challenge, absent of a story to most participants, has already raised 40 percent of the revenue that the walkathons have raised in 14 years. And it happened in just a few weeks.
Why? It leveraged a better kind of fear. If you ask people in the life insurance industry what sells the product, some might answer, “fear.”
Most would infer that they are implying the fear of death, or maybe the fear of their families being destitute in the event of death. Those are both very daunting things to deal with, like ALS.
But what the ALS association did, consciously or unconsciously, is use a different fear to motivate people to act and create exponential awareness. They used the fear of disappointment of others, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) on the opportunity to be seen as awesome.
The Ice Bucket Challenge involves people challenging their peers to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads to show their bravery publicly, and to write checks. The fear is not about dealing with ALS, but rather to not “wimp out” at the expense of the world knowing it. The answer was a simple five-second act. And once it was done, a new hero is born.
I know this because my nine-year-old godson challenged my husband to the task on Facebook. We did it. (“We” means that I dumped the bucket on my husband). Why? We wanted to be his hero, and not fail him for something so easy to do. In researching the previous works around fear in marketing (Pratkanis and Aronson in particular), it was suggested that there are a few factors that make fear work well in getting people to act. And the ALS association wins on all three.