McCann Japan planning director and ALS sufferer Hiro Fujita on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Hiro FujitaIn this guest post, Hiro Fujita, a planning director at McCann Japan and a sufferer of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a terminal disease which paralyzes everything except the senses and the mind, talks about viral phenomenon the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from the planning and personal perspective.

The Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) obviously means a lot to me, just as it does to all of us fighting ALS. It also fascinates me as a planner. For the last three weeks I have watched it grow, wondering what makes something become such a social cause and a global entertainment wonder.

First of all, the IBC is more than just a viral video. It is an act. One for which people needed to prepare, participate in, upload and then watch it go viral. It was NOT about watching a cute 30-second video of a cat.

So why is it succeeding? You know there are people in ad agencies the world over analyzing, arguing and conjecturing how they could duplicate this for their own ends. So as someone more invested than almost anyone, I offer a few clues and thoughts.

The IBC plays on a few of the most basic human motivations. It started from a pure place, to simply help the guy next to you. The desire to help, and at the same time subconsciously reconfirm your importance. Allowing people to do good can’t be underestimated. This then extended to self-branding, the desire to be seen to stand for a just cause, the desire to be included and connected, and the desire to stand out, as most things this major are.

On an executional level, the basic motivation was to have fun. You can watch people from all countries, from a three year-old to 80 year-old giggle hysterically at the abnormal actions of pouring water over your head with your clothes on. It is the simplest action that translates beyond any border. Even a three year-old gets it.

The simplicity of these basic human desires was key to the viral movement.

In terms of communication design, it uses the powerful chain of activating the influencers of influencers. Every time a new influencer touches it, it trickles down to a new population. I have discussed this approach with many brands. It is always a challenge to point out and access the most influential in a category, and have them carry the torch proudly, and involve other influencers around them.

This always leads to the discussion of creative ownership. Brands and agencies must learn to create a simple template, and then let go of the blank canvas if they are to take this route. They should give creative freedom to influencers so they feel ownership and spread the word to their influencer friends as, well, their own idea.

Our goal is not to create great creative. It’s to deliver solutions and results. The IBC is simply a canvas that says you can show your creativity, your compassion and your personality.

So, why ice? Why water? Why didn’t so and so nominate three people? Who cares. $100 million plus gets raised, untold hours of mindshare and awareness gained. People who had never really given a thought to ALS have now invested in it, its cure and its brand. Wonderful.

Depending on the objective, sometimes the brand book needs to be set aside. Although the size of campaign may become much smaller when a cause is branded, today people tend to gravitate to those that do more than don’t.

However, with all that said, the IBC IS NOT OVER YET.

Now, it is every ALS Association/organisations’ duty to be transparent, and use the money to create miracles (like a cure). And announce the part every person played in this miracle. This will inspire even more people to participate in similar causes in the future.

Of course it is wonderful to see so many celebrities participate. Every marketer would love these guys to volunteer to participate and endorse their brand. But, and there is a big BUT. We dream of getting these “shot callers” on human advancement to stay with our brand. And we really need them to stay with ALS. It is the Gates, Zuckerbergs and Gagas around the world, together with the researchers who will influence governments to make miracles happen. To force changes in regulations to create speedier trials, live trials to help us halt and cure ALS.

And I truly hope the IBC inspired the great minds of our industry as well. Not to figure out how to copy a mechanism, or to consider how they can claim some part in the success. I hope that it might inspire the planning and creative collective genius of the marketing and advertising worlds to use our industries celebrations to consider how to do more to keep IBC growing, evolving, achieving.

Here is a dream. What if the next great award shows, Spikes Asia, AMEs, Cannes, put aside a day and asked all the attendees to build an agenda to build off the IBC and create the next great social movement to stop ALS.

Because, perhaps what we should be optimistic and focus more on is the enormity of what the ALS IBC means. It is bigger than communication, a disease, religion, race, wealth, or a bucket… whether the reasons may seem right to you or not, EVERYBODY just wants to take part and help the person beside them.

Oh… and thanks to all Mumbrella readers who participated. And if you have not yet I look forward to seeing your video.

Fujita has appeared at TedX Tokyo, where McCann APAC head of strategy and Hong Kong MD Dave McCaughan, who hired Fujita ten years ago, told the story of how losing the ability to speak or control his bodily functions made the young Japanese more willing to communicate.


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