Ice Bucket Challenge – computer virus anatomy

Celebrities, politicians, sportspeople as well as normal, average people are pouring buckets of cold water on their heads, all because of the Ice Bucket Challenge. This event is aimed at increasing the awareness concerning the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS for short. It has also brought more than 100 million dollars to its initiators.

It’s really simple. First comes the nomination – during the next 24 hours the nominee has to make a donation for the charity fighting the ALS. Otherwise, he or she has to throw the bucket of cold water on his or her head, record it and post it on the internet. And then nominate more people.


This event went viral in the social media. Friends nominated friends, later even the celebrities, politicians and sportspeople were involved. Famous people both supported charities and poured water on themselves. The information that George Bush, Vin Diesel or Bill Gates poured water on themselves was widely known in the media, which only helped spreading the initiative. There was, obviously, some criticism.
It was pointed out that the event’s popularity is gained mostly by those who won’t pay to the charity. If they paid, they wouldn’t pour the water or nominate any further people.

Social Media Fuel

Brand24 informs that in the social media the Ice Bucket Challenge is mentioned more than 16 thousand times daily. Most commonly, it appears on Twitter (53% of all the information). More or less 17% of references comes from video clips and somewhat more than 10% from Facebook. It clearly shows the information spreading potential of the Twitter.
It is also worth noting that the Twitter was used both to promote the Ice Bucket Challenge, as well as posting links to videos and discussing the particular performances. The event gained momentum like a snowball going downhill.

Virus anatomy

Ice Bucket Challenge has all the components needed for the viral spreading:

The Prize – Ice Bucket Challenge is a part of the trend called the slacktivism. This word is a portmanteau of ‘activism’ and ‘slacker’. Quite the opposites. By definition, slacktivism is a simple action that has no great impact, but greatly enhances the mood of people involved. Shortly – it helps you feel that you are a good person without doing much, which is a form of the prize.

Simplicity – Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t the first of its kind. Before that, there was a similar initiative: “Cold Water Challenge” in which the nominee either paid for the charity or jumped straight into the pool of cold water. Still, pouring a bucket of cold water is much easier than diving into a lake or pool. Most people have a bucket or a bowl at home. The recording is also short and can be watched anywhere, even behind your bosses back.

Fun – watching your friends pour cold water on their heads is already fun. Seeing the same done by the celebrities or businesspeople is an occurrence on gossip sites. Also, the Internet is full of bloopers concerning that particular challenge. Some of the nominees choose a more creative way of approaching the challenge. Bill Gates created a special device for pouring water on his head, Patrick Stewart took the challenge in the most gentlemanly way and Yuri Drabent jumped with the parachute.
This also is a component of an efficient virus – ability to create parodies or variations. One of the reasons for the incredible success of the “Gangam Style” was the great number of parodies and variations of the artist’s dance.


Community – everyone taking the challenge nominates their friends. Celebrities have it easier. Ethel Kennedy, the president John F. Kennedy’s widow, nominated Barack Obama while the actor Vin Diesel nominated Vladimir Putin.
Obviously, not all viruses have to comprise of all these components. Funny clips from the polish group Abstrachuje rely mainly on fun and simplicity. Their films are funny, make accurate comments on the reality and parody the mass culture. At the same time they are fairly simple, short and watchable even while commuting to work. Still, a built-in goal and the ability to spread to one’s friends greatly enhances the virus quality.

Virus test

Immediately a question appears – is it possible to manufacture a virus in a “marketing lab” ? Partly. It is possible to mix the components that your campaign needs in hope it catches on. Or, more reasonably, it is to test your content before releasing it “in field”. While creating a viral you can ask your customers:
-Would you send this to your friends?
-Why?
-What is funny or interesting in this advert?
-What do you expect from this advert?
-What product has been advertised? What do you think about that? Has this advert changed your approach?
Testing advertisements and marketing messages does not give a 100 percent sure guarantee that the content goes viral. Still, it allows to avoid situations in which the manufacturers fixated on their product or its daring marketing campaign completely forger about their customers.

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Małgorzata Traczyk

Graduate of University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Social Science of Internet Communication and Warsaw School of Economics in Product and Service Management. Currently, Product Manager in Uxeria. She used to work on mobile applications’ design and remote usability testing as a UX Specialist in Management Observatory Foundation. She is a member of the Usability (IAB) working group. Outside work she is a fan of travelling, cinema and a wide range of music.

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