Do Awareness Campaigns Work?

At the peak of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge during the summer of 2014, it seemed like no matter where you turned someone was dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads for a good cause. In the name of raising awareness of the debilitating illness, people around the country–from you and your family to the likes of Chris Pratt, Oprah and Conan O’Brien–turned on a camera, hit record, and doused themselves in ice cold water.

Many were criticized for their efforts. The claims came pouring in left and right, saying that “awareness” wasn’t going to help anyone suffering from ALS, only monetary donations could help.

The truth is that, yes, you’ve more than likely already heard of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. You, and the good majority of the country are aware of the disease and the effects that it has on those unfortunate enough to suffer from it. Awareness, as it stands, is not typically an issue when it comes to diseases.

But as it turns out, awareness campaigns can–and often do–yield incredible results.

It was announced in July of 2016–almost exactly 2 years after the trend went viral around the globe–that a gene was discovered as a direct result of the awareness and subsequent increase in donations that resulted from the Ice Bucket Challenge. The huge influx of donations came thanks in part to the process of “nominating” other participants via video–if those participants elected not to douse themselves in water, they were asked to donate to ALS research instead.

Not all awareness campaigns are created equally, though. Awareness campaigns that have spread across social media platforms in recent years have been met with somewhat middling success. Multiple breast cancer awareness campaigns have flooded the Facebook feeds of millions of users in recent years. One that garnered a particularly high amount of attention came in the form of status updates containing just one word–a color. Seeing these pop up on feeds around the world lead many people to question why their friends were posting “blue” or “pink” or “black” seemingly without context. Later, it was discovered to be a breast cancer awareness campaign that asked women to simply post the color of their bra on social media without context.

The attention garnered from the campaign was immense, but that’s more or less where the productivity stopped. There was no donation-portion of the campaign, an important distinction from awareness campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge, which asked people to donate if they were nominated but opted not to participate.

While some awareness campaigns are effective and potentially life-changing, others have yet to solidify just how they plan to go about making that important impact. Without proper planning and execution, an awareness campaign can come and go, leaving little more behind than a status update that says “blue.”


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