This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The premise is simple – people are challenged by friends to either dump a bucket of ice water over themselves and make a video of the process, or donate $100 to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The videos are posted to Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites, and people then challenge their friends to follow suit.

Ongoing since mid-July 2014, the challenge has raised more than $100 million for the ALS Association as of August 30 — a mindboggling sum, considering that last year’s total for the same period was $2.6 million. Other ALS-related charities have reaped major benefits as well. The ALS Foundation is now facing a significant challenge of its own — how to use more money than they’ve ever had before for research and other initiatives. As the foundation’s president told NPR, “It’s sort of like the lottery winner that receives a lot of money and four years later is looking in the mirror saying, ‘What did I do with all that money? Where did it go?’ We don’t want to be that kind of lottery winner.”

Everyone from celebrities to companies to sports teams to individuals has taken part (The New York Mets, Bill Gates, Justin Timberlake, George W. Bush, Mark Zuckerberg, Jennifer Aniston, Aerosmith, Jimmy Fallon, Kermit the Frog, and Chris Christie, just to name a handful). The campaign has gone international, and is picking up steam in China and Europe.

Videos have become absurdly elaborate, too. Bill Gates’ video features a complicated contraption to hold the bucket, Carrie Underwood used a bulldozer for hers, and Paul Bissonnette used a helicopter.

Perhaps one of the best indications of the challenge’s popularity is that it’s provoked a backlash from people who think it’s a waste of water, especially in the California drought, or that it’s a cheap gimmick and people should just donate without having to brag about it by posting a video. (Predictably, there’s even a backlash against the backlash by people who are exasperated that anyone would have a problem with something that’s raised so much money for a good cause.)

There are even collections of funny ice bucket challenge “fails” making the digital rounds.

Naturally, other charities are already trying to figure out how they might be able to duplicate the ice bucket success. For its part, the ALS Foundation even tried, albeit briefly, to trademark the term “ice bucket challenge.”  Will another charity manage to reproduce the ice bucket success with a new, as yet unforeseen challenge — or will the ALS Foundation be able to bring the challenge back at some point, after it inevitably fades? Good (and, at this juncture, unanswerable) questions, but it seems more likely the whole thing will eventually go the way of the Harlem Shake.

How did the challenge go viral?

Any number of fundraising initiatives involve people willingly submitting to some form of humiliation or discomfort in an effort to garner donations — such as locking themselves into jail and having to raise “bond,” getting a pie in the face, being forced to eat incredibly spicy food, and so on — in a public way. Some of these initiatives involve freezing cold water, such as a polar bear plunge, where people take a dip in a lake or ocean during winter. The ice bucket challenge can even be compared to an old-fashioned dunking booth.

It’s not like we’ve never seen people get ice water poured over their heads, either. Coaches are routinely doused by their players with icy-cold water (or worse, sticky Gatorade) by their players after a big win, while TV camera operators jockey to get the shot. Clearly, it’s fun to watch someone else get ice down their necks.

So really, the ice bucket challenge is simply a new twist on an old idea — but it went viral. Viral phenomena spread from person to person, by word of mouth and increasingly, social media. The appeal from a marketing standpoint, of course, is that viral campaigns spread themselves, with little or no paid media.

It’s worth noting that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was not created by a marketing agency, or even by an ALS organization – in fact, as one expert pointed out, it’s not even accurate to call it a campaign. Instead, this viral sensation seems to have originated with Chris Kennedy, a minor-league golfer whose cousin is married to a man with ALS. Kennedy posted his video on July 14, and the campaign gained traction with the involvement of Pete Frates, a former college baseball player who has ALS. By August 8 ALS associations had begun to promote it — and from there, the challenge snowballed.

Jonah Berger, a marketing expert and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On,  has conducted significant research into viral campaigns, and has identified their characteristics with an acronym: STEPPS, which stands for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Practical Value, and Stories.

STEPPS and the ALS challenge

Berger’s book maintains that most viral phenomena are spread by word of mouth, and not social media. Obviously, that’s not the case with the ice bucket challenge, which was driven by videos posted to social media. But it’s interesting to evaluate the ice bucket challenge using his STEPPS characteristics. Naturally, the challenge has most of them in spades.

Social Currency: This is the idea that people like to share things that make them look good (which is precisely the beef of some people who don’t like the challenge, maintaining that we should donate without the narcissism). Donating money to charity and finding a creative, funny way to throw ice water on yourself definitely fits the bill. I’ve seen friends in my Facebook feed fall backwards into a kiddie pool filled with ice water, or stand under a second-floor balcony while a friend dumps the water, for example – but the most moving video I saw was a friend who filmed her challenge from her seriously ill toddler’s hospital room, using a small hospital-issued water pitcher. Who could resist her challenge?

Triggers: These are top-of-mind ideas. The ice bucket challenge originated at the hottest time of summer, when cooling down might sound attractive – even when taken to an extreme.

Ease for emotion: Getting people to have a strong, positive emotional reaction is a feature of many viral sensations (remember the Susan Boyle video on Britain’s Got Talent, for example)? As Berger puts it, “when we care, we share.” ALS is a horrible, fatal disease that robs people of their ability to move, eat, and eventually, breathe – but the ice bucket campaign doesn’t focus on that. Instead, it focuses on the fun aspect of watching people douse themselves with ice water for a good cause.

Public: When we can see people doing something, we’re more likely to follow suit. Peer pressure is a strong force! As Berger points out, there’s a reason bartenders will put a few dollars in their own tip jars. Ice bucket videos are all over the Internet, especially social media, and participants are supposed to publicly challenge their friends to jump on the bandwagon.

Practical value: This is “news you can use,” sharing information that makes people better off – in the case of ice bucket challenge, the campaign raises awareness for a rare, fatal neurological disease. Participating makes people feel like they’re doing something.

Stories: The feeling of participating in a narrative is unbelievably powerful. Being part of the ice bucket challenge provides just that – it’s a pretty significant commitment, to go to the trouble of finding a bucket and ice, dressing in something you don’t mind getting soaked, finding a place to do the challenge, and filming the entire soggy experience.

Creating viral campaigns

How can marketers create that coveted alchemy — a truly viral campaign? If the answer were simple, all marketing firms, Prime Design Solutions included, would be busily launching viral campaigns at every given opportunity. In fact, we’re deeply skeptical of any marketing firm that claims to be able to create anything “viral” at the drop of a hat. And it’s worth noting once again that the ice bucket challenge was not created by a marketing firm or an organization — it happened more or less organically.

Viral campaigns aren’t easy to create, predict, or control. That said, it’s worth examining the ice bucket challenge and other viral phenomena to see what we, as marketers, can learn. As Berger has demonstrated, it is possible to use the characteristics of virality to make conventional campaigns more “spreadable,” more likely to be talked about and shared.