Why Did ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Go Viral? 7 Good Reasons.

Models doing ice bucket challenge
Models doing ice bucket challenge

At this moment, marketers around the world are trying to replicate what has happened with the ALS ice-bucket challenge. See the ALS Association website (news) if you’ve somehow missed this unplanned viral campaign that’s exploding from celebrities and your community.

First some context. Few knew until now, but ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It was brought to attention by major league baseball player Lou Gerhig (whose name is synonymous with the disease). I’m happy for ALS because it’s getting the awareness and discussion otherwise reserved for breast cancer.

The ice-bucket challenge isn’t new, but the ALS angle seems to originate as follows: a golf trainer challenged a Sarasota NY professional golfer, Chris Kennedy, to dump a bucket of ice water on his head AND choose a charity to support. In mid-July he took the offer, and chose the ALS because his wife’s cousin has it.

So how did it go viral?

Based on my experience as a “Viral Video Genius,” I’ll now outline seven of the reasons this ALS cold-water challenge has caught fire. Let me confess that while I’m thrilled for ALS awareness, I’m also burnt out on the ice-bucket challenge. I kinda throw up in my mouth when I hear “I nominate…” soon followed by a giggling scream. But please feel free to enjoy the blooper reel: ALS ice-bucket fail compilation video I created. It’s been seen about 75,000 times.

I’ve also provided some examples below to underscore my theories, which are, of course, highly credible since I’m a viral author. So now you’ll sound very sophisticated when you analyze the ice-bucket campaign at work, home and with friends.

  1. als, viral, challenge, secret, why, how
    Why did the ALS ice-bucket, cold water challenge go viral? Easy, timebound, personalized, exponential and charitable.

    It’s one-to-one and exponential. Each person names 3 people they know, so if just half (1.5) of those people respond, it spreads extremely quickly. “Tagging” a person in a video has worked before. Remember naked vlog tag from 2008

  2. Let's just hope that other charitable efforts don't reuse the "ice bucket" like they did with Livestrong bracelets
    Let’s just hope that other charitable efforts don’t reuse the “ice bucket” like they did with Livestrong bracelets

    It’s charitable not commercial. Of course it doesn’t matter what charity has benefited, because it’s unlikely that the majority of this was motivated by a personal connection to ALS. Charitable efforts go viral because they appeal to our generosity (and our desire for recognition of said generosity). Think about the explosive impact of the Hank and John Green (Vlogbrothers) Project for Awesome. If it was breast cancer, we’d have seen this go further. Of course it can’t work for another charity now. Find something new, folks. Don’t pull a “Livestrong Rip” on this.

  3. It’s time bound. The “24 hour” plea is a vital ingredient. That forces the recipient to act or not act. And guilt prevents the latter. These things need to be fast to work, and we know quickly if it’s a success. Think Kony 2012 (Feb 2012 through April 2012), which lasted about 3 months and was forgotten.
  4. Participation is formulaic. People like to join these types of games if the assignment is easy. That’s why the Harlem Shake took off… it was a very short, simple formula that almost anyone could replicate. Do you remember the Chicken Soup dance? Same idea.
  5. It’s easy. With the proliferation of video-enabled smart phones, no editing is required. That factor isn’t exclusive to this challenge, but certainly enables participation by the unwashed masses (instead of elite web or online-video junkies). It’s like a video meme we can all join.
  6. It’s a visceral, visual stunt. Same idea as Gangnam Style, but you don’t need skills.
  7. We like modest pain. It shows our courage and discipline. Remember the cinnamon challenge? I did a “double dog dare” with eating worms, but it unsurprisingly didn’t catch fire. We seem to have a strange fascination especially with getting iced. But most don’t have the conviction to do the “polar bear plunge.” Although frankly, I’d do the plunge to end this campaign.

There is actually an eighth reason that has something to do with wet t-shirts, but I’m not going to count that one.

America’s Funniest Videos Versus YouTube

  • Why has America’s Funniest Videos (AFV) not died in 20 years even despite the age of “instant gratification via YouTube”?
  • How does AFV manage the logistics of culling through massive amounts of user-generated clips?
  • How many clips does AFV producer Vin Di Bona own?
  • Why has no other show or format “cracked the code” of televising web clips until, perhaps, Tosh 2.0?

Wired Magazine solved many of these age-old nagging questions in “Painfully Funny: Why America’s Funniest Home Videos Won’t Die” a recent issue by Brian Raftery. Note Raftery’s choice of “won’t” versus “hasn’t” or “can’t.”

Some quick AFV-facts (below) were fascinating news to me, and I’ve watched the show since 1989 with the love-hate relationship you perhaps share. Sure, I dig the poodle in a congo line and giggling quadruplet babies, but my spoof (now at 12 million views) tells you how I see the show. All that’s missing is Sagat’s painful impersonations — the chalkboard scratch of the 1990s.

Fun Facts:

  • Di Bona is like the porn king of user-generated videos, and is sitting on an exclusive library of 104,000 plus digitized clips, all carefully tagged with words like “cat (4K plus), parrot, baby, snot (265), itchy, zipline, sea turtles and lick.
Bergeron is gold. But someone may want to update this photo. When's the last time you held a VHS tape or burned a DVD?
  • Why, despite Sagat’s horrible humor, sound effects and voiceovers, did the show survive? Because in the 90s it was impossible to share clips and nobody was culling them. Luckily Tom Bergeron and a smart writing/editing staff have fine-tuned the model. Bergeron is like Ryan Seacrest. Each sound, facial expression and body movement exudes confidence, is inflected with precision, and yet is approachable. I watch them like you may watch professional ice skaters (I tend to prefer the latter only when they spill).
  • Did you miss a key word of my first bullet? Exclusive rights, which is extremely rare in today’s digital economy. That’s why David DeVore, a Florida real-estate agent, made a smart decision to turn down “exclusive,” in a move that’s given him far more than even AFV’s top $100,000 prize (and since the clip involves a minor under the influence of a drug, it might well have never left AFV’s faults, points out Raftery’s Wired piece). I just found DeVore’s note to me: in the weeks after “David After Dentist” exploded: “Do you have any advice on what to pursue? Maybe its nothing, I dont know. Is youtube partners a good option? Are there other things to look into?” I rushed to bring this to YouTube’s attention, although it certainly would have happened without me. It takes a lot of home commissions to reach what he’s earned from that clip in advertising-revenue sharing, and he owns it… not Di Bona.
  • The show’s secret formula is that it stayed away from video “stories” (beginning, middle and end) in lieu of micro clips that have global appeal… I’d see FailBlog as today’s version, yet many of its clips are ripped and certainly not capable of monetization. I sent my 1980s videos to Di Bona when I saw a “call for entries” that preceded the original broadcast (I can’t remember signing a release, but I’m sure I’d have signed away my life at that time). I was tickled to see some of my videos on the early promotions of the show, although I don’t believe they’ve ever been in the show. For two decades people have asked me why I don’t send videos to AFV, and I now have two simple answers: my videos aren’t AFV gold (with a few exceptions like Charlie and the Santa claus) and I don’t like exclusivity. No AFV grand prize could offset what YouTube’s done for me.
  • Charlie and Santa, having surpassed ever slightly the “50K views or lower” AFV requirement, would not make it eligible for AFV. They’re smartly avoiding online memes and popular clips. That’s a distinct advantage over shows that recycle clips most of us have already beat to death. To be considered for AFV, of course, I’d have to take down the video and cede any upside that might come otherwise (the clip has been on television but no exclusivity was required).
  • The AFV videos are recycled less often than you’d think. In periods Di Bona received 1,000 videos a day, sometimes barely any, and other times 2,000 per week. If he relaxes his exclusivity clause and invites easy web submissions he’ll get far more entries even if worse in aggregate (that would lower the bar for home-video creators, making it less effort to submit, and perhaps overwhelm his staff reviewing loads of nonsense). Relaxing the exclusivity requirement would also change the business model since by air time we might already be sick of the Sneezing Panda.
  • The most interesting fact about the Wired article? No mention of Cute, Win, Fail... which I think is a brilliant adaptation of AFV for YouTube… with potentially a higher potential revenue source long term.

Bottom line: should people submit to AFV or YouTube? That depends on the power of your clip, and whether you think you’re a “one-hit wonder” or someone who wants to make this your passion. Most likely your clip isn’t going to go “David After Dentist,” but get lost in a sea of sameness. But I’d certainly test it on YouTube, and see how quick it gets views. If it caps at a few thousand and doesn’t appear to be moving, odds are it won’t (though it’s possible). Then you’ve got higher upside on AFV, although you may never see it on television or make a dime. For me, the odds of winning the coveted $100K prize just seem too low… and my videos are usually pranks or mini-stories, so they’re not an AFV fit. So when I hear the word “exclusive,” I hear “if this thing starts making loads of money, you won’t see a dime.”

You’re Ugly

Oh sorry. I wasn’t speaking to you. I was talking to the blog.

Would value your tips on improving the look and experience of this blog. I used to enjoy interacting more with commenters, but now “new comments” has been demoted visually beneath the big book.

So a few thoughts, and welcome yours:

1) More photos, shorter copy. That’s on me.

2) Better masthead. This one’s too salesy and big. Quirky but professional , and aesthetic would be better. Anyone good at that?

3) Community first… make it easy to comment from any profile and encourage it… I may be able to customize Thesis to do that. But if you know of a newer and better wordpress plugin/theme please let me know.

Thanks! I really want a simple visual cue on what new blog posts are generating comments… Sorting “most read” blog posts is good for the noob but I’m more interested in the loyalists.

P.S. As Uncle Seth sayz, less is more. This thing’s a bit too overwhelming maybe.


Retarded Policeman “Creative Feud” Kills Show


In a creative & financial dispute that began early this year, the people behind YouTube’s popular The Retarded Policeman series recently brought their feud to “court of public opinion.” Mediocrefilm‘s Greg Benson created the show with his wife Kim Evey (who produces The Guild, staring Felicia Day), and hired “Ponce” Perry, who stars as the, well, retarded policeman. Benson also hired Ponce’s brother Scott, who appeared in the first episode, and helped write and direct a few episodes, including the one in which I appeared (so it’s been removed).

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

  • The first episode appeared in September 2007. The most-recent posted video, posted last November (2008), was “Lt. Ballsack” and ironically stars Benson getting pulled over by Ponce.
  • In April, the Perry brothers created the Ponceman account.
  • Five of the episodes have been removed (including the one in which I appeared) because Scott participated in the writing or directing. The rest of the episodes, according to Benson, are his.
  • The DVD is still for sale. Get ’em while they last, folks.
  • The Perry brothers first created a video about the feud, and posted details on their blog. They claim there was an agreement between them and Benson: “We had an agreement with mediocrefilms that has not been honored.  Since the beginning of this year we have tried to work things out but, regrettably, we have reached an impasse. We cannot allow our work on the series to be exploited any longer without our original agreement being honored and all of our attempts to “work something out” with mediocrefilms have been fruitless.”
  • Greg Benson responded to the Perry Brother’s claims in this video, and on his blog. Benson said they had no agreement, and that he paid the brothers thousands of dollars.  He said he offered them various compromises, but was ignored when he requested the Perry brothers to propose terms that would satisfy them.
  • Neither is providing specifics of the terms, and whether the Perry brothers had a “work for hire” or revenue-sharing arrangement.

This debate, only recently brought public, was part of the reason I suggested TheStation (The Station is Doomed) will run into a similar snag. Parenthetically, check out thehill88 and brookers, who provided some informally entertaining responses to that video on their superlazerz channel).

Alas, it’s extremely difficult to collaborate on a channel and share YouTube proceeds, because it’s nearly impossible to determine who contributed to a channel’s success… was it the promotion, producing, writing, acting, directing, editing?

This is the first significant and public feud over ownership rights of a web-video show, and that’s maybe the most surprising piece of news.

So how can you reduce the chances you’ll find yourself in a sad, creative/financial snag like these guys? Get something in writing… the more money a channel earns, the more people will feel cheated unless terms are explicit. Is it 50/50 or are the actors simply paid a flat fee and/or some small percentage of revenue?

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of these guys, and I’m saddened to see them disputing, especially in public. Benson’s Mediocrefilms channel, one of the most-subscribed, continues to monetize the bulk of the episodes. Ponceman‘s channel has a fraction of the following with about 28,700 subscribers.

If there was (as the Perry brothers claim) an agreement that wasn’t honored, would they have a recourse in YouTube? Or does the video-sharing site have no responsibility here?

Perhaps a YouTube community member will volunteer their services to arbitrate. The show was brilliantly conceived and executed, and we can only hope it will return in some form. We can dream the impossible dream, right?