The biggest surprise hit of the summer is not Guardians of the Galaxy but rather the megaviral smash Ice Bucket Challenge benefiting the ALS Association. Rather than be thankful for this windfall the ALSA has recently decided that they should own this challenge and prevent any other cause or organization from using it. What do you think they are, a charity?
Oh yeah, they are. Then maybe they should start acting like it and not a bunch of selfish iceholes.
First, some background. The ALSA did not create the ice bucket challenge. The gimmick has been around for a long time. In fact, when this latest round started over the summer it began as a challenge to dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100 to a charity of your choice. It was only when the challenge first passed to professional golfer Chris Kennedy that the donation was flagged for the ALSA and the individuals he tagged kept the charity when they made their videos. Later, there was a significant wave of ice bucket activity in Boston due to native ALS sufferer Pete Frates and concerted actions by the Red Sox organization. Facebook’s data team’s analysis shows that Boston does appear to be the epicenter of the challenge going truly viral.
Nobody is exactly sure why the challenge has reached its current level of popularity, but that’s true for most viral hits in the social media age. Sure, the videos are funny. And having one person tag several others to participate makes for an exponential reach. And having the challenge somehow associated with charity so we all think we can have fun while helping out a worthy cause makes it seem nice too. There are even a scattering of super serious videos in the mix depicting a bit of what the disease means to its victims and their families. We can identify all the elements but we still don’t know what made this challenge go viral like it did. Heck, even I did one. Although I’m not linking it after the reasons behind this post.
That doesn’t really matter though. It doesn’t matter that we can’t explain why it went viral; it went viral. It doesn’t matter that perhaps the amount of money we give to charities is out of proportion to the impact of the disease as IFLScience linked in a Vox article infographic; there is no doubt this is a horrific disease and increased attention to it is a good thing. It doesn’t matter that ALSA only spends a small percentage of its budget on research; it performs several other valuable services and all charities have to spend a lot of money to ultimately make more money in the end.
Here’s what does matter: the ALSA was given the greatest gift of their life in terms of this ice bucket challenge. Donations are through the roof. Yesterday they reported making over $94.3 million in donations in just the last month. Last year, in the same time period, they received around $2.7 million. Rather than just say thanks or give the tearful Sally Field “You like me, you really like me!” Oscar acceptance speech they decided to go another direction. They decided to take that warm fuzzy feeling we’ve had from watching or making these videos and donating to a worthy cause and pour a giant bucket of ice water on our flames of altruism.
As first reported on the Erik M Pelton & Associates blog, the ALSA filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office to be granted a trademark for the term ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE as used for any charitable fundraising. They also filed an application for ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE but it’s the main application that should make people furious. Heck, it made me enough to write a blog post on a Thursday night and I never do that.
Filing a trademark for the term “Ice Bucket Challenge” would allow them to prevent any other charity from promoting a campaign that the ALSA had fall into their lap. The ALSA did not create this concept. They did not market this campaign until it already went viral. They have no responsibility whatsoever for this going viral. If the ice bucket challenge had found a connection to the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society then it could have gone just as viral.
What on earth could make the ALSA think they should have any right whatsoever to prevent someone else from using this challenge?
I can’t think of a good reason. I can think of reasons, mind you. They just aren’t good. Fortune was able to get a statement from ALSA spokesperson Carrie Munk:
The ALS Association took steps to trademark Ice Bucket Challenge after securing the blessings of the families who initiated the challenge this summer. We did this as a good faith effort after hearing that for-profit businesses were creating confusion by marketing ALS products in order to capitalize on this grassroots charitable effort.
Sorry, ALSA, but that excuse doesn’t hold water.
First, obtaining the blessings of the families who created this challenge is nonsense. Even if you got permission from everyone who ever did an ice bucket challenge–SO WHAT? This was a charity drive. You think the first charity to earn a million dollars from a bake sale should get to stop all other bake sales? Because that’s what filing a trademark on the challenge is an attempt to do–you’re trying to stop any other charity from using the term for fundraising.
Second, you heard some shady companies were making money off the Ice Bucket Challenge? Wow, that must be weird. To think there are these companies just sitting around making money off something they didn’t create. JUST LIKE YOU. Who cares if someone makes an Ice Bucket Challenge shirt and sells it? If it says ALSA on it or has your logo you can already go after them without this new trademark application.
The ALSA’s actions are atrocious and reprehensible. They may have raised a ton of money this summer but it could all backfire over a move like this.
But here, ALSA, I’m going to be nicer than you appear to be. Here’s a way for you to cover your cold, soaked behinds and spin this in a favorable way. What you should have done is post on your website the day you filed the application, saying that you are only doing so to protect all charities from shady profiteers but that all charities would be free to use the mark forever for no charge if you received the trademark. The fact that you didn’t tell anyone about the application and only commented when it was called out on social media (by the way, you’ve heard about this social media thing and how a lot of people use it, right?) you can just blame on being so busy counting all your money. It’s a bad excuse, but maybe it can save some face.
Because right now you look like a bunch of iceholes and I resent every penny I gave you. Not for the good work you’ve done, which is a lot, or the families you’ve helped, which are numerous, but for being greedy instead of generous, selfish instead of, you know, charitable.
Update Aug 29: The ALSA has withdrawn their trademark application. Good.