The day one of the richest men in the world turned a challenge into advertising

#AnAdvertADay #Day78

A few days ago, the ALS association, fighting against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, set up the Ice Bucket Challenge, to raise awareness around their cause.The challenge quickly gained support from major celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga along with big players in the biz like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.


Now I have to say that I have always hated these Facebook-nomination challenges. There is no real fun or ‘challenge’ to it and I just find it generally sad.

But this one is different for two reasons. First, it is for a good cause that has been popularised by the most influential celebrities out there and the second reason is that big businesses have started tagging along.


On the contrary, the second point brings an issue to light. The problem is, when business gets involved, it is always questionable whether it comes from philanthropic motives or other perhaps, some other agenda. Here, the question intrigued people enough to find out about what is happening.

I would say that Mark Zuckerberg joining the fun is no surprise at all. His platform has always been driving this kind of content and getting it viral. Therefore, not participating could have almost been taken as denying the sole purpose of Facebook and what it can do. It also shows a bit of humanity in a character often depicted as pretty rigid and not really playing by the rules. Plus, it’s great publicity.

But then Bill Gates comes along, and on that one… it’s really hard to make your mind up around it! This got people even more intrigued. The man who is the face of philanthropy just came aboard!

Clearly, he did not just take on the challenge there but he went on and did much more than that.

Let me explain.

This video is more researched visually with a definite camera set up, edit and scenario as opposed to the simple “one take” video that everybody else did. He (or his team) even went further and built a full arch just to pour the bucket of ice onto his face! Add this to the obvious product placement at the beginning and BAM! You’ve got some kick-ass advertising content. He converted the challenge into an advertisement. An advertisement by its very nature is a more consumable form of content.

So, now that we have agreed that if it looks and feels like advertising, then it must be advertising, the question stands. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Well, to me it is the best thing to have happened to the challenge! And it is for a lot of reasons. The first one being that if you take on a challenge and you find a way to make it cooler, you just HAVE to do it! And this is exactly what they did here.

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Some will argue that this is just a narcissistic fad for wealthy men to look good in the eyes of the public, but it’s without knowing Bill Gates. The man has cared for the foundation he created for nearly 15 years and is probably the most famous philanthropist in the world. He doesn’t need any of that to look good!

Some others would say that pouring a bucket of ice on top of your head doesn’t get money to the foundation. Well first, Bill Gates does say right at the beginning of the video that he WILL donate to the ALS, and second it seems the association is actually raising millions, thanks to this campaign. So I reckon it works just fine.

Transforming the challenge into advertising, permitted the video to go viral by allocating resources to make it look fun and probably also gave it a little push in media and PR from the Microsoft team, which, in the end, raised a lot of awareness.

One thing you can ask yourself as well is: is it really different from every Pro-Bono campaign that advertising agencies do all year round, investing in people and money just to get awards in end? I don’t think so. But this time, all the factors tied well together to make I work.

I also really just like the off-beat atmosphere of this video and find it really refreshing that one of the most influential business man in history can still play around with his reputation. And that is why I think what they did here is pretty cool.

But if you don’t like that style, you can always get a little louder and go for the Charlie Sheen way.


Oh wait he’s plugging TMZ? Damn it!


Benoit Finck

Benoit is a French copywriter that has lived across 4 countries over the last 4 years. He is passionate about advertising, cultural differences and Stand Up Paddling (some kind of surfing) that he practices every time he gets a chance to get out of the office.

You can follow him on Twitter: @BenoitFinck

Do take a look at his amazing website: Benoit Finck