ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Soaked for a Cause

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | August 27, 2014
It is India's turn to be taken by storm as the initiative to spread awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis went viral. Advertising and media professionals are chipping in.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has become a household phrase for anyone who is on social media. Videos of celebrities - and ordinary people - emptying a bucket of ice water over their heads are all over the place. The viral stunt, called 'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge', aims to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is neuro-degenerative and is also known as motor neuron disease (MND).

CurryNation team takes ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Samsung Galaxy S5 Ice Bucket Challenge

Priti Nair

KV Sridhar

Ekalavya Bhattacharya

Paritosh Joshi

The Ice Bucket Challenge, which started in early August, is a simple request under which once challenged by someone, a user has to film himself (or herself) pouring a bucket of water over the head and upload the video on the web. If they fail to do so, they have to donate money to the ALS Association within 24 hours. Once soaked, they need to nominate others and ask them to either do the same or make a donation to an organisation dedicated to fighting ALS.

The initiative went viral on social media after US baseball player and ALS patient, Pete Frates, floated the idea of the challenge. So far, celebrities like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen, George Bush, Daler Mehndi, Dia Mirza, Abhishek Bachchan, Sonakshi Sinha and Akshay Kumar have taken the challenge.

The Indian advertising and media fraternity also extended its support by taking the challenge. Afaqs! spoke to bigwigs in the advertising and TV industry who have accepted the challenge.

Every bucket counts

Priti Nair, co-founder Curry Nation, who took the challenge with her colleagues voluntarily, terms the Ice Bucket challenge as 'brilliant' and adds that "it is way more entertaining and involving than a standard boring social cause message. There is an element of virality in it. I wish more such ideas come from our country as well."

Nair challenged advertising veteran, KV Sridhar aka Pops, chief creative office, SapientNitro who completed the challenge recently. Pops, who personally knows people suffering from the ALS disease, dubs this drive as a social media campaign that defines 'good advertising'. "A campaign related to social causes has to create a dialogue and a call to action. It cannot be preachy, the message must be embedded in a story. The Ice Bucket Challenge does just that. It is an on-ground activity which creates dialogue on social media platforms," he asserts.

While the challenge has garnered a mass level support, it has also received flak from critics especially in India for wasting water and the disease not being relevant to the country. Pops points out that for those who think its a 'Yankee' thing need to understand that this disease is prevalent in India as well. "There is a high level ignorance about it and that is why it is often not diagnosed and treated properly," he explains.

Meanwhile, Ekalavya Bhattacharya, head, digital, MTV India who took the challenge draws parallels with previous social media phenomenon such as Kolaveri di, Harlem Shake or the Gangnam music video. "Coming from a family of doctors, I am very much aware of this disease. This challenge has induced a 'social media behaviour' among users. Most of the ALS videos mention the word ALS disease which motivates the viewer to go online and search for it," he says.

Bhattacharya adds that those criticising the challenge must take into account that the ALS disease is also prevalent in India and there are number of research institutes as well as charities that work for it. Donations or contributions can be made to these organisations as well.

MTV India incorporated this challenge in one of its digital shows, 'Chase the Monsoon', in which four contestants took the challenge and poured water on their heads and made donations from the meagre daily budgets that they get to survive on the show and travel across India.

Ice vs rice

Weeks after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, India came up with a desi version of the challenge, calling it a 'Rice Bucket Challenge'. Hyderabad-based Manju Latha Kalanidhi posted the challenge on her Facebook wall - and it went viral too.

The 'Rice Bucket Challenge' involves helping the poor by either donating a bucket full of rice or feeding the poor in the locality. One can also donate medicines worth Rs 100 to the nearest government hospital. Paritosh Joshi, former CEO, Star CJ Alive and current chairman, TechCom and board member, MRUC, who accepted the Rice Bucket challenge, takes a more macroscopic view of the phenomenon.

Joshi believes that such campaigns trigger ideas that travel across geographies and create a huge impact. He affirms that social or digital media has championed causes and reached millions, something, which a regular TV campaign can never achieve. "Critics may accuse that the Ice Bucket Challenge trivialises the enormity of the disease, but if the campaign is motivating people to search for it one the internet, the purpose is being solved. Inadvertently, the information about the disease is spreading," he says.

ALS has already caused a ripple effect. Apart from the Indian version of the challenge, people in Gaza have started "The Rubble Bucket". It involves pouring a bucket of rubble on their heads to draw attention to the devastation and suffering being inflicted on the inhabitants. The ALS idea has mutated. The core point, Joshi believes, is that it has "triggered 100 ideas" which will multiply creatively and will add to various virtuous causes globally.

Interestingly, brands too are playing it. Samsung UK's marketing team took the Ice Bucket challenge by pouring ice water on its Galaxy S5 model and trolled its competitor brands, iPhone 5S, HTC One M8, Nokia Lumia 930 by nominating them for the challenge.

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