How the ALS ice bucket challenge hijack could harm other charity brands

Watching someone douse themselves in ice cold water is funny -- even better when it is for charity. But other charities are hijacking the ALS ice bucket meme.

The ALS ice bucket challenge has swept the US in August, dousing thousands of people with ice cold water in the name of charity.

How the ALS ice bucket challenge hijack could harm other charity brands ZDNet
Image: YouTube

It has gone viral across the world, and donations to the ALS charity have topped $40 million. But all is not well in every country participating in the challenge.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a degenerative and fatal neuromotor disease that slowly robs the sufferer of mobility, the ability to swallow, and the ability to breathe.

Known as Lou Gehrig's disease in the US, the disease is called motor neurone disease in the UK. The scientist Stephen Hawking is a well known sufferer of MND.

The phenomenon asks people to pour buckets of ice water over their heads or donate to the charity and nominate three others to do the same.

It was started in the US in July by a sufferer of ALS/Motor Neurone disease, Pat Quinn to raise awareness. It is widely known as the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge."

The challenge has gone viral. As videos of people dousing themselves went viral, they also went upward in celebrity.

In the tech world, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates all filmed themselves going from the absolutely dry state to the absolutely soaking wet state. (Gates even showed off a self-dousing contraption in his video.)

They then went on to challenge even more famous people — calling them out by name — to participate by either donating or dunking — or both.

The challenge spread across other parts of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other English speaking countries.

As the disease is known differently in other countries, people started to douse themselves without referring to the ALS charity itself.

In the UK, the charity referred to most was the MacMillan Cancer charity — not the Motor neurone disease association.

Image: Macmillan

MacMillan has been accused of hijacking the social media campaign. Its home page encourages you to include the following line when you post on social media:

“I nominate XXX to take part in the #IceBucketChallenge in the next 48 hours and text ICE to 70550 to give £3 to Macmillan. (*Wimp out and text FINE to 70550 to give £10 instead)”.

MacMillan is even using paid ads on Google to draw attention to its campaign – perhaps because the charity for motor neurone disease has not paid for Google ads.

MacMillan said that it has raised over £3 million since it adopted the ice bucket meme, whilst the MND charity has raised £2m.

How the ALS ice bucket challenge hijack could harm other charity brands
Image: Google

But is MacMillan right to hijack the ALS challenge? No single company owns a meme — just like no one owns a hashtag.

Macmillan tweeted: “.@nkflanders We didn't buy that term; problem is no-one did. We only picked "Ice Bucket Challenge" but it defaults to our ad for extra words”. The charity certainly was very proactive about encouraging people to douse themselves in ice water.

Perhaps MacMillan is taking advantage of our desire to donate to charity and is using social media’s viral nature as a very effective way to raise funds for cancer nurses.

But is it diverting funds away from ALS / MND? I am undecided.

Surely it is good to give to any charity, whether a school fete, sports raffle or challenge spread by social media such as the #nomakeupselfie challenge earlier this year.

There are many more charities out there that need our help. Perhaps we should all follow Queensland newsreader Lincoln Humphries’ lead and “spread the love” instead.