Thomas Fiffer reveals the psychology that has made the Ice Bucket Challenge so wildly successful.
To date the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $40 million for ALS research, brought in hundreds of thousands of new donors, and inspired millions of Facebook videos. And while the actual challenge is to pour ice over one’s head or donate $100 to help cure ALS, countless participants have done both. After all, just dumping ice on your head doesn’t help anyone—except the local convenience store where you bought it.
No one is counting the bags of ice and gallons of water used. And no one has fully explored the question of why the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral so quickly and is working so well. Obviously the promotional brains behind it put some serious muscle into the social media push. But there’s more to it than that. I believe there are four reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge has been so successful.
1. It appeals to the narcissism we constantly indulge with our phone cameras. It’s yet another excuse to film ourselves doing something goofy and share it with all our friends—and one we can feel warm and fuzzy about even as our heads and shoulders freeze.
2. It plays on the powerful shame-based motivation of the dare. Having people challenge or dare their friends to participate guaranteed a viral response. People don’t really want to pour ice over their heads (though it is summer), but no one wants to be viewed publicly as a loser or someone who “wimps out” when challenged to a dare.
3. It appeals to our endless desire to see others humiliated. We seem to have an unlimited appetite for watching videos of people screwing up, getting hurt, and otherwise making fools of themselves—just look at some of the most popular stuff on YouTube. And because the ice-pouring is self-induced, it’s harmless.
4. It satisfies our egocentric need to publicize our charity. In the Judaeo-Christian ethic, the highest form of charity is when neither the giver nor the receiver know each other’s identity. In reality, everyone wants recognition. By design, the challenge necessitates sharing your contribution on the Internet; I mean, why pour ice over your head if you’re not going to post the video?
The bottom line is that the Ice Bucket Challenge appeals to some of our basest and most basic human needs and instincts and channels them to support a worthy cause. If you ask me, that’s pretty brilliant indeed.
Photo—Hot Gossip Italia/Flickr