Taking risks – in defence of Macmillan in the Ice Bucket Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.07.30By now you’ll have seen the Ice Bucket Challenge all over Twitter, Facebook and even the news.

It’s clearly a great campaign – social, great viewing, shareable and raises more than your average sponsorship – genius elements in any digital campaign. And if you haven’t seen it, watch Patrick Stewart’s ice bucket challenge. It’s the best one.

Macmillan’s role

While it’s primarily done for the ALS Association in the States (MND Association in the UK), Macmillan noticed their supporters doing it and encouraged them. They paid for some online ads to promote it.

Some viewed this less than positively. I started a big Twitter chat where even more viewed less than positively. Macmillan themselves were moved to blog in response to the criticism.

Taking risks in digital

I don’t want to discuss whether Macmillan were right or wrong to do it – this Guardian article is a great exploration of that if you’re interested.

What I will say is that in making this move, Macmillan took a risk. A big risk, arguably. I don’t know exactly what they discussed beforehand but they will have known this on some level. And for that, I applaud them.

Because charities up and down the country right now are thinking “How can we do a similar campaign?” That is, how we can we do something that will probably work? How can we do a surefire fundraising campaign?

Not enough charities are thinking “Even though there’s a strong chance this won’t work, let’s do it anyway and learn from the results.” Great digital marketing relies absolutely on this attitude, of testing, learning, iterating and testing again. Of taking big risks. Trying an unproven approach. Being bold in its messaging. It’s a brave organisation that puts itself out there, even though at best their idea won’t work, and at worst will subject them to enormous criticism.

If that attitude alone was immediately replicated in digital teams up and down the land, I strongly believe there would be more brilliant campaigns, and more money raised that changes lives.

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