Contagious content: The ice bucket challenge

Why would anyone want to dump a bucket of ice water over their head? And having decided to make this bizarre decision why would you then decide to video it and show all your mates?! Questions I didn’t think I’d be asking myself in July, but make perfect sense today.

Perhaps by using the insights we have gained through our research into what creates “Contagious Content” and looking at the spread of the ice bucket challenge using Kantar Media Intelligence’s Fisheye technology, we can shed some light on what is driving this “mass Icesteria” (sorry!)

Firstly, a reminder of our contagious content work that looks at the drivers for sharing online. These were identified in what we call our R.E.A.C.H model, developed within Kantar Media and subsequently tested and validated with the team at Yahoo. R.E.A.C.H stands for Relevance (is it of interest to you), Emotion (does it make you feel), Ambience (is it current, endorsed), Currency (will it make you look good to your peers) & Handiness (is it useful). We would argue that a great part of the success of the ice bucket challenge has been its ability to deliver across all of these attributes.

I’ve been working alongside my colleague Euan Mackay on the Contagious Content research who has himself taken the ice bucket challenge and can therefore give us an added insight into what drove him into this madness.

For many of us it is our friends and family we see in the videos, making it highly relevant to us as individuals. For some there will also be the deeper meaning of the disease the challenge seeks to drive awareness of and funding to research, certainly in my own experience some of the most frequent posters of this content among my friends are those who have experience of ALS or other serious conditions within their families.

Euan Mackay (EM): “The whole ice bucket challenge became increasingly relevant to me when it moved away from just celebrities doing it, to real people who I actually knew. In the end my nomination came from a school friend whom I had seen getting soaked herself.”

Linking us neatly into emotion, and here I would suggest it is twofold, first we have the emotion driven by the underlying message around ALS which many will be deeply touched by. We have the more visceral emotions around seeing someone having a bucket of ice cold water dumped on them. There is a great mix of highly arousing emotions here including joy (seeing your mates get it) and fear (imagining yourself getting that cold water running down your back and if it will be you nominated next). Both of these are likely to increase adrenalin in the viewer making them want to take action and when combined with such a worthy and heartfelt cause why wouldn’t the emotional side of you be screaming out to press share and join in.

EM: “Well, the main emotion that I felt was dread and horror really, as soon as I got the Facebook message through telling me I had been nominated. After that initial wobble though I felt that this was as good an opportunity to both make a contribution to charity that was close to my heart. And then of course there was the slightly darker emotion of vengeance and how I can get retribution on my pal who had nominated me.”

Ambience is also key to the success of the ice bucket challenge with its sudden rise to prominence and the clear celebrity endorsement we have seen. Mainstream media has also had a huge influence in setting a context in which the ice bucket challenge could thrive, in August alone we saw a total of 14,264,254 shares on social networks from online news articles and stories. By providing this content the media is giving us both added material to share alongside the challenge videos as well as creating a zeitgeist in which the challenge has flourished. The ice bucket challenge is also clearly getting endorsement to help its kudos here which in turn helps feeds the currency factor we discuss next. The chart above shows how this endorsement is working with the top 20 accounts with the highest potential impressions connected for the challenge. In the lists we see a clear mix of sports starts and celebrities including the new breed of “YouTube Celebs” as well as curated media sites all of which endorse this behaviour in the viewer’s mind.

EM: “The fact that the ice bucket challenge had been so “in your face” across the media over the previous couple of weeks meant that I knew everything about it. I was up to speed with what was going on. It had entered my consciousness even before it became especially relevant to me.”

In all the work we have done looking at what drives people to share, the overriding attribute is currency. This is whether sharing this content will make you look good in front of your peers and it is incredibly important in driving sharing. In the case of the ice bucket challenge there is a clear currency factor at play, first there is the guilt of not completing the challenge if nominated and the social stigma this could entail. Then there is the clear halo of taking the challenge and looking like a fun loving, caring person to your friends. Further evidence for the currency factor appears when we look at some of the one up man ship in some of the videos as those taking the challenge look for more elaborate ways to get their dunking. It is not enough to do the challenge for some they need to have their own unique version of it. These uniquefail and celeb versions of the challenge helping to add greater fuel to the spread of the videos as we look to find new and exciting videos to be the first to share with our friends even if they are individuals not directly linked to us.

EM: “For me and my challenge, it wasn’t so much about looking good in front of my peers – when all is said and done I was dumping a bucked of iced water on my head in the rain at 6.30 in the morning. It was more not rising to the challenge. It was the emotional blackmail that I felt that made me do it. I didn’t want my friend of 20-odd years thinking that I was not up for a bit of nonsense. And then there was the power that I was given from being able to nominate others. That was one of the real driving factors here. Being able to pass it onwards and put other pals through the same trauma as I had gone through.”

Finally we have the handiness factor which is the utility content can provide and in this instance we have a clear underlying message about a debilitating disease that we should quite rightly highlight. We have seen just how effective this campaign has been in raising awareness with Tweets connected to the  website that referenced the ice bucket challenge generating a total of 124,146,585 potential Twitter impressions.

EM: “Well, it’s not the most productive thing that I’ve ever done in the garden, but it did mean that I was helping raise money for charity so I figured there must be some good coming of this.”

By hitting all these attributes and doing this through an engaging medium like video the ice bucket challenge provides a strong motivator to share. However, as Currency and Ambience are clearly important factors within this it seems unlikely it will last too much longer as these attributes are often time dependant so if like me you have so far avoided a soaking we may not have too much longer to hold out!

Source : Kantar Media

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