The 834,232nd Post You’ll Read on The #IceBucketChallenge

Just to get this out of the way: I am not saying that ALS is not a worthwhile cause or that it’s not a devastating disease, and I would never suggest that you should not donate. What I am commenting on is the set up and execution of the recent awareness campaign that you’ve no doubt failed to escape on your news feed.

The #IceBucketChallenge has raised millions of dollars in just a few weeks…And that’s fantastic. The ultimate goal of pretty much any campaign for a cause is to raise money, because that’s what will fund research that leads to a cure. So in that respect, the campaign has succeeded. In other ways, it hasn’t.


Having worked on awareness campaigns from the beginning phases (agencies like to call this “ideation”…barf), I know that it’s not *all* about the money. The second priority is awareness. With diseases like ALS and Lupus, many people may not even know they exist, much less the symptoms, prognosis for current patients, treatment options and prevention, if applicable.

“Awareness” is a term that gets thrown around a lot on social media in relation to charitable causes. “While I’m not donating money, tweeting this hashtag is contributing to the awareness of the issue,” is the common slacktivist motto. But I’m talking about actual awareness: marketers need to educate audiences about the disease itself, the steps taken (and those needed to be taken) to find a cure, and how the disease is affecting real people. (Some participants have uploaded videos that give a bit more insight into the disease, like this one making the rounds on Facebook, but that’s a bit outside of the campaign’s call to action.)

True awareness is what can help convert the campaign from a one-time summer fad to a cause that people care about (and contribute to) year round–non-profits need to encourage brand awareness too! If all people know about the cause is that they got to film themselves dumping a bucket of cold water over their heads and got lots of likes and comments, the message is going to fade faster than a summer tan.

It’s what bothers me most about the Ice Bucket challenge: it’s so blatantly superficial. I’m obviously not the first to notice–it’s been compared to a wet T-shirt contest many times already. I imagine the meeting in which the idea was developed went something like: “How about we…make people do something kind of crazy to get their friends to donate, like, I don’t know…dump ice water over their heads. That’s a bad example but you get the id–”

“Brilliant! Okay we’ll go with that. Lunch?”

Marketers for non-profits are well aware of the vanity factor. A depressingly large part of why people donate is because they can look like good citizens to their friends–good citizens who are doing well enough financially to give money away. And a chance to show off your bikini body to boot? People just couldn’t resist.

I wish it wasn’t the case–that it didn’t take silly antics and the promise of short term Facebook fame to get people to care about a disease they’ve never heard of, but it’s a fact of human nature. But while vanity is a powerful tool for non-profit marketing, it shouldn’t be the centerpiece of a campaign. I like this Forbes writer’s list of suggested alternatives to the Ice Bucket Challenge, none of which wastes water, all of which are considerably less annoying.

Facebook Made People Sad, This Time on Purpose

Last week, news of a Facebook experiment outraged users and even research and privacy experts. To test “emotional contagion,” about 700,000 Facebook users were unknowingly shown a filtered version of their news feeds—scrubbed of either positive or negative content. The result told us something we’ve already suspected: people shown positive updates are more likely to post happy things themselves, and vice versa.

But it wasn’t the experiment’s decidedly un-revolutionary result that has people guffawing. Bloggers are calling the experiment “unethical,” saying  that “Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad.”

sad puppyTechnically, and uh, legally, I do think Facebook was in violation, as they had no “informed consent” to conduct these experiments. Apparently they even tried to retroactively cover their behinds by sneaking that little technicality into their terms 4 months AFTER the experiment was conducted, which further points to their culpability, and their knowledge thereof.

But we’re in a bit of a gray area, ethically. Facebook didn’t create happy or depressing content to show users; they simply filtered the content from those users’ friends. Our news feeds are already filtered; most of us have enough friends or follow enough pages to where we cannot see ALL content, so Facebook’s algorithm chooses what we see based on our previous interactions. In the case of this experiment, they just tweaked that algorithm.

And in case you weren’t aware, this isn’t the first instance of emotional manipulation on the part of a large company—that’s kind of the definition of advertising. Brands try to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside so that you associate that feeling with whatever their slingin’. Or, they go for negative reinforcement: what about those ASPCA montages of super-sad looking puppies and kittens? (Yes, I know ultimately it’s for the good of the puppies, so maybe it’s not so terrible.) Or other products that make you feel uncool if you don’t have them—why aren’t we up in arms about that?

Yes, the experiment was dishonest and a bit creepy. But is it really a big deal that some people were a little more bummed out than usual? I don’t think people realize that Facebook isn’t a free-for-all, public forum—for example, when you post something on Facebook, they have all rights to use that content. You’re choosing to use their website and abide by their terms, even if you’re not aware of them all. It’s naive to think that your activity on the internet isn’t being tracked or studied, because it definitely is. Armed with the awareness of that fact, plus awareness of your own emotions, might just make you a little less susceptible to digital manipulation.


Thanks For My New Butt, YouTube!

I’m starting to think YouTube is better than actual TV. What’s on? OH, EVERYTHING. For example, I love Food Wishes for super simple, no-frills, easy to follow recipes. For silly, brain-break stuff, I love Smoothie Freak, Pleated Jeans, and even Jenna Marbles–despite the fact that I am about 10 years older than her average audience member.

But my faaavorite thing about YouTube lately is the exercise videos. I’m getting married in a few short weeks (eek!), so I guess you could say I’m a little image-obsessed. Okay, more than a little. But now that I’ve upped my workouts to every day, the same pilates/yoga/piloga routines get tiresome. Once you’ve memorized not only the moves but the instructor’s inane commentary and voice inflection, it’s time to mix it up. My favorite butt-whoopin, tummy tuckin’ channels are:


A great ab routine from Tone It Up

Tone It Up: If you’re like me and have a crippling addiction to bad reality TV, you might recognize trainers Karena and Katrina from their show on Bravo, “Toned Up.” Their YouTube channel features short workout videos (ranging from 5-30 minutes) that are much more useful and practical than the reality show, which was pretty much a compilation of them giggling and occasionally looking confused. Their cues and instructions are easy to follow and decidedly un-annoying; there’s not too much fluff and commentary around the workouts. And they group their videos by playlists: total body, arms, thighs, etc., so finding exactly the kind of routine you want is super easy. Plus, they serve as motivation themselves–if I can end up looking anything like them, sign me up!

Blogilates: (Don’t you love a good fitness neologism?) Similar in format to Tone It Up, fitness instructor Cassey Ho delivers short, targeted routines than can be done in your living room with little to no equipment. Though this one might require a slightly higher tolerance for cheerleader pep and megawatt smiles, especially as you’re sweating and grimacing through a tough ab routine. She caters her videos to common trouble areas that most women like to focus on, and mixes it up so you’re never doing the same exercise twice.

BeFit: This seems too good to be true–DVDs from Jillian Michaels, Denise Austin, and others, in full, on YouTube, for free? They have everything from yoga to dance to cardio to “bootcamp.” You probably won’t find new releases on here, but your glutes don’t know what year it is, right?

Buzzfeed, All-Knowing Internet Oracle

Thank goodness for Buzzfeed, or I wouldn’t know what city I should live in, how smart I am, or what career I should have!

It seems like just, oh, 10 year ago that I was finding out Which PowerPuff Girl Are You? or Who’s Your Ideal Celebrity Boyfriend? on MySpace and LiveJournal. Funny how these quiz things are cyclical–we’re all our own favorite subjects.

Pinterest, You Temptress

Today I got a startling email from Pinterest:


I am simultaneously impressed at how SMART that feature is, and concerned what this might mean for my bank account. Automatic alerts to sale prices on stuff I ‘m already pinning after?? Be still my heart.

Well done Pinterest. You’re well on your way to becoming a formidable retail beast.

Fine Tuning Social Media Consumption

Today Facebook announced the addition of the new subscribe button: a feature that allows users to get activity updates without actually being friends with someone. Users will also be able to choose which specific types of updates they will see.

It just points to how overwhelming social content has become–if you have more than a few hundred friends, it becomes difficult to keep up with your inner circle, because that girl you had one class with junior year posts updates about her cats’ eating habits every 17 minutes.

Facebook knows that users are getting frustrated with sifting through all this content on an all-or-nothing basis. While the new button only applies to personal profiles and not pages (ie brands and businesses), digital marketers need to take note that consumers are going to get used to being able to fine tune what kind of content is delivered to them. It’s just another reminder that it’s quality and definitely NOT quantity that people are looking for–multiple updates clogging Facebook feeds are more of a deterrent than a valuable branding tool.

After all, life imitates Facebook; what users get used to on the ubiquitous time waster, they will demand in the rest of their digital lives.

Who Cares About Comments?

According to AdAge’s Stat of the Day, 63% of readers are not enticed by the comments feature on news websites.

If you look at the age breakdown, it’s pretty clear that age is directly proportional to how much you want to read other people’s smartass comments on headlines like these (teehee).

Well, it makes sense–Gen-Y’ers are used to the hype becoming news itself. We’re just as interested in the reaction as we are to the actual story, and we’ve been conditioned to expect an online dialogue with every post.

Another possible theory: are we just that much more impressionable? Confidence, and often stubborness, is earned with age. We might be looking to others’ comments to validate our own views. After all, we now have unprecedented access to other peoples’ opinions from around the world, so we might be checking to see if our views align with others’ views.

That’s not to say that we can’t think for ourselves as a result–if anything, it’s encouraging to see that we value other peoples’ perspectives. Or maybe we’re just looking for some good punch lines.