September 02, 2014

Throwing Cold Water On The Ice Bucket

One of the dependable characteristics of dumb guys is the attribution of far-reaching meaning to random occurrences.

In the past, people thought lightning was an expression of godly anger. Comets and meteors were thought to augur the end of the world.

You can always tell who the half-bright marketing promoters are because they, too, attribute deep meaning to every random marketing phenomenon.

As soon as something comes out of nowhere to be a marketing success, they get busy developing a big dumb interpretation of it and drawing specious conclusions. They produce long-winded essays and blog posts about the lessons we fools should learn from the miracle.

Perhaps you remember "The Blair Witch Project." It was a movie that out-of-the-blue became a huge success driven by a small online advertising campaign. All the half-wit marketing gurus saw this as a seismic shift in movie marketing that would forever end the practice of spending large sums on traditional advertising by movie studios.

Of course, it did no such thing and studios are spending more than ever to market their films.

Then there was Zappos. Its unlikely success was interpreted as a signal of the beginning of a new age in which enormous business goals would be achieved with just a little clever Twitterage. Once again, Zappos turned out to be an anomaly that no one has been able to duplicate.

Then there was the Arab Spring in which communications experts explained to us how social media had become the indomitable force for political change that was going to bring freedom, democracy, and kale smoothies to the Middle East. Yeah, any day now.

And now we have the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Every dim bulb is drawing grand conclusions from this one-off. I guarantee you there are about a thousand Powerpoint presentations currently in the works explaining the "Five Critical Lessons" we should be learning from it.

In fact, there is only one lesson to be learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge: sometimes silly shit catches on.


Cecil B. DeMille said...

I think all of the things you mention have success because they're the first. People notice, in marketing terms, when a trail is blazed, not when a long-trodden path is further trodden.

The trendhumping ad mainstream doesn't seem to get that you have more chance of success blazing your own trails. Bereft of original thought, they would rather jump on a bandwagon that never moves. The "we're next" wagon is a shitty ride.

Ice buckets and Blair Witches. One-offs, as you say, because they were first. Prediction: The Ketchup Bucket Challenge, sponsored by Heinz, will not take off.

Alex said...

I agree with your premise.

"Sometimes silly shit catches on". Sometimes the virality of that silly shit is over-analysed. Sometimes conclusions are drawn from that analysis that aren't correct.

George Lois called this analysis paralysis.

I don't agree, however, that the Ice Bucket Challenge is the best vehicle with which to make this point. You refer to it as a "one-off" despite it essentially being a replication of the No Make-Up Selfie. The No Make-Up Selfie was, in turn, a positive replication of Neck Nominate.

Sometimes silly shit catches on, and sometimes silly shit catches on because of the mechanic used to propagate it.

VinnyWarren said...

Oh I love that stuff. I was once the victim of such analysis. A stupid thing I did caught on and suddenly earnest looking marketing people were coming up to me at conferences explaining to me why my stupid shit was successful, confident that they'd cracked it. Oy and vey.

sallan3 said...

Remember the Pet Rock?

Jim Mitchem said...

In 2009 I grew a new brand (from scratch) in a new market sector during a recession using only social media (no traditional advertising) and last week we were ranked the #120th fastest growing company in America by Inc. Magazine. So yeah, there are anomalies.

Tom Webster said...

Can I get that on a PowerPoint slide? Thanks.

Guest said...

best opening line ever.

r said...

Loved this! "In fact, there is only one lesson to be learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge: sometimes silly shit catches on."

- Exactly what I think about the Ice Bucket challenge. There really are no lessons for marketers. The campaign probably wasn't even strategically planned.