Did The Ice Bucket Challenge Actually Work?

It generated boatloads of cash, but did it change how we look at ALS? (Or even how many people know what ALS is?)

The Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral sensation challenging participants to dump a bucket of ice water on their head and invite others to do the same, is finally dying down. There were endless variations on the campaign, which raised money for the disease ALS: Bill Gates building out a contraption to dump the water on his head, Olivia Wilde dumping “breast milk” on her head, and so on. Even Anna Wintour took her turn with the bucket.


Throughout the whole thing, there was the distinct sense that many people were just taking the challenge as an opportunity to ham it up. Even so, proponents argued, they were still raising awareness for ALS, a woefully underfunded and often ignored disease. But how many people who took the challenge actually donated? And did they really raise awareness?

The business intelligence firm RJMetrics set to find out, selecting 1,500 random #icebucketchallenge videos from YouTube and uploading their raw data for analysis. Here are some of the highlights of what the company found.

Most videos mentioned ALS–score one for awareness.

Slightly less encouraging news: Only 20% of videos mentioned making donations in the name of ALS. Now, this doesn’t mean that the people who neglected to mention a donation didn’t donate. It just means they decided not to talk about it. Since people tend to enjoy talking about their good deeds, however, it’s a safe bet that the majority of people who dumped water on their heads didn’t donate.

Unsurprisingly, ice bucket challenge takers who mentioned ALS in their videos donated money 25% of the time, compared to just 5% of people who didn’t mention ALS in their videos (some of the people in the latter group may not have even gotten the message that the challenge was related to ALS).

All told, the challenge helped the ALS Foundation raise nearly $100 million, compared to $2.8 million at the same time last year. That doesn’t count the increased awareness of the disease, which could lead to future donations down the line. Regardless of whether it made you cringe or smile, the ice bucket challenge was a success.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.