Brands grab hold of ice buckets

From Volvo to TD, brands are taking on the ALS challenge. But is it refreshing or pouring cold water on the trend?

ALSIceBucketChallenge-VolvoFrom pro athletes to your friends on Facebook and even Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, this summer the internet has been full of videos of people dumping a bucket of ice water over themselves.

Now the ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease) Ice Bucket Challenge, where people record themselves completing the challenge and pledging to donate to an ALS foundation, and then call out others to do the same within 24 hours, has reached corporate Canada.

Yesterday, Volvo Cars of Canada, working with Grey in Toronto, posted a video with Marc Engelen, its president, challenging competitors BMW Canada, Mercedes-Benz Canada and Audi Canada to take the challenge before CFO Matt Girgis, VP marketing Margareta Mahlstedt-Karayiannis, VP customer service Carol Kitchen, VP network development Daniel Martin and VP sales Dave Forrest poured the water over themselves and one of their vehicles.

TD Canada’s CEO Tim Hockey and 199 other staff members also doused themselves yesterday around 4 p.m. in front of its downtown office. In response to Hockey being called out the day before, the stunt was filmed (including a bucket-view shot taken on a GoPro) and edited by Diamond Integrated Marketing and released last night, calling out others in the banking industry. The stunt comes on the heels of TD’s viral video of it surprising customers with prizes at an ATM, for which it also worked with Diamond.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s OMERS Venture also took part in a challenge yesterday.

It’s all for a good cause, of course, and so far more than $1.2 million has been raised through the challenge, according to ALS Canada’s site. But while marketing professor Ken Wong says brands definitely have a right to play in this space, he doesn’t expect this will move the needle that much for those that do. People who already like a brand will likely feel that brand’s intentions are honourable when it gets involved in this sort of cause, whereas someone who dislikes it or big brands in general will likely be skeptical about why they decided to get involved.

“It may be something you just have to do to be considered a reasonable brand,” he says. “It may keep you from losing customers, I don’t know that it will help you gain any.”

However, he says that “first movers,” as Volvo appeared to be in its category in Canada when it posted its video Tuesday evening (it’s been viewed 550 times so far), are likely the only ones to get any boost from such a move. As of this morning, the other auto brands did not appear to have responded, though Volvo says it heard at least one was preparing a response.

Lindsay Mattick, VP, strategy and creative at Narrative PR, agrees that getting on a trend early can position a brand well.

“This positions Volvo as a brand willing to…step up and engage in the cause of the moment,” she says of the automaker’s stunt. “Do I think it’s going to make people want to buy a Volvo?  No. But does it imply Volvo is paying attention, culturally relevant and willing to be a leader? Yes. And those are all things that drive positive associations for the brand in my opinion.”

For their part, Volvo says the company was challenged by ALS Canada this month and decided to help drive awareness for the cause. Mahlstedt-Karayiannis, VP Marketing at Volvo, said via email that there had been a positive response to the stunt and it resulted in stronger-than-expected social engagement.

“We have a very passionate community of followers and we’ve increasingly seen that they want Volvo to play a larger role in the communities where we operate in Canada,” she said.
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