How do you follow the Ice Bucket Challenge?
What were you doing in August 2014? Wherever you were, chances are that you or someone you know was pouring icy water over themselves, as part of a craze that swept the world in just a few short weeks.
In the UK, most of those people were raising money for Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a rare and cruel disease that kills half of those who get it within two years of diagnosis.
During August, more than £7million was raised for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the UK’s main charity for the disease who compared the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge with a ‘lightning strike’.
Motor Neurone Disease was suddenly being talked about everywhere, with celebrities soaking themselves all over YouTube and urging fans to donate. Awareness of the disease jumped among the general population. Other charities got in on the buzz and started fundraising for their own causes.
And then, just as suddenly, the storm swept out of town.
It left professional communicators everywhere trying to work out how a stunt that began amongst professional golfers in the States turned into a global phenomenon and fundraising bandwagon.
For the MND Association there was the welcome question of what to do with the added public attention. And the challenge of how to link it with their annual awareness campaign
Reconnecting with the public
At Neo, we’d watched the Ice Bucket Challenge unfold and already talked a lot about what the implications might be.
We suspected that trying to reactivate the Ice Bucket Challenge or create the next viral fad would be a bad idea. We also suspected there was a unique opportunity for the MND Association to make the most of what had happened ‘last summer’ and ensure that connection was remade.
So we went to MND Association with our ideas for how to take a reflective look back at 2014 and tell the stories of those for whom this summer could be the last.
For the team there, this was a route that they could see meeting the needs of those with MND looking for more public awareness, and awareness of the MND Association’s work.
The creative idea formed around absence, and what had changed since summer 2014.
Our first bucket-and-chair shoot took place in an ordinary back garden, which needed the appearance of having been left for a year.
The scene formed the basis of a poster and digital asset campaign, with variations for a range of channels and locations.
Meanwhile the stories of what had happened since the previous summer for Ailsa Malcolm-Hutton and Michael Smith, both diagnosed with MND, were told through written interviews, videos and posters.
From 1 June, the campaign hit London’s tube stations and national railway and bus networks, with the film released online and then in cinemas across the UK.
Making a splash
This was a exciting campaign, for all of us working on it. It wasn’t just the topic, much as that felt momentous. It was also the scale of execution, stretching all the way from tactical social media engagement to high-profile ad space and cinema, and requiring collaborative working with agency partners, media planners and our client.
We also had a tight timeframe to work with, but when the core idea’s right that can work well – the momentum demanded by a short run-up can help everyone keep focused on what matters.
Once live, the campaign immediately resonated with the MND Association’s online community. They wanted the annual awareness month to celebrate what happened in summer 2014 and to see MND back in the public consciousness.
They saw the power of the link between the passing of time and impact of the disease on friends and loved ones. Many were moved to share their own stories, on the MND’s social channels and in their own blogs and social media.
In the first few days of release, the video was shared hundreds of times and watched over 12,000 times online.
Over the month, the film reached over a million people through cinema release at 746 screens.
Over 13 million were potentially reached by the campaign in rail stations.
Not all the creative hit the mark the way we planned. The quote on Michael’s tube poster sent the wrong message for some, sparking a backlash on social media that had us thinking hard about the context for campaign assets, public sensitivity to perceived ‘shock tactics’ and the role of testing creative.
But the response from those who saw the intentions of the campaign was incredible. Activists, fundraisers and compassionate observers took to their blogs and to social media to consider the real impact of the disease and the necessity of pursuing answers to it. Many praised the MND Association for refreshing the Ice Bucket Challenge link so boldly and memorably.
#lastsummer has helped those with MND see the highest-profile UK awareness month so far in support of their cause.
And while MND remains incurable for now, there is greater hope of understanding and the right support for those who endure it.
#lastsummer was a memorable journey for us at Neo, and the many partners who played a part in making the campaign happen. We’re proud to have been a part of it.