Please join us in observing a moment of compassion for the digital directors and fundraisers who, as we speak, are being summoned into CEO suites and ordered to come up with something as successful as the ice bucket challenge.
History is unambiguous on this: There will be a million imitators and none will succeed. But this much is certain: Sleep will be lost and tears will be shed.
In 1975, an ad exec named Gary Dahl invented the “pet rock.” He packaged regular old rocks and sold them along with training manuals to “teach the rock to sit, stay or fetch.” For whatever reason the idea caught fire. Pet rocks flew off the shelves and Gary Dahl became a rich man.
Marketers went nuts trying to reverse engineer the pet rock phenomenon and produce “the next pet rock.” None succeeded. And so it went with Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch Dolls and other non-replicable crazes.
We non-profit folks are just as vulnerable to pet rock syndrome. When Moveon.org was taking in money hand over fist, everyone started adding footnotes to their email appeals, because that’s what Moveon did. When Obama raised a kajillion dollars online, everyone used “Hey” as their subject lines because that’s what Obama did. And so it went with Kony 2012, Livestrong, etc. etc.
Here’s what I think. No one will ever really know why the ice bucket challenge took off while there were probably thousands of equally worthy campaigns launched around the same time. But that won’t stop CEOs and Boards from using the bucket challenge as your yardstick for success until the next pet rock comes along. That’s why you get the big bucks, right?