The UAE's business community has jumped on the Ice Bucket Challenge bandwagon. But are their efforts simply a cynical ploy to generate some quick and easy PR?
Ice Bucket Challenge goes corporate in the UAE
The Ice Bucket Challenge is not solely a celebrity domain. Over the past week, several tech titans have posted videos of themselves pouring freezing water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS, a fatal disease that attacks the nervous system. Many have also donated as well as taking the challenge.
While Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took on the challenge as individuals, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, involved dozens of colleagues, turning it into a corporate team effort.
The challenge, now a global phenomenon and perhaps one of the most viral campaigns of all time, also hit the shores of the UAE last week. By Thursday, local chief executives were merrily drenching themselves in chilled water and nominating their business rivals to do the same.
But is it an astute move for businesses to join in? Or a cynical ploy to generate some quick and easy PR?
“We have some sort of obligation to society to support these causes [and] I just think it’s nice,” says Aleix Garcia, operations manager at Cirque le Soir nightclub in Dubai, who took the challenge along with his team. He pointed out that the public profile of celebrities and businesses means their ability to generate awareness and donate money is higher than a regular person’s.
“People follow us on our website and on Facebook and Instagram so this is an encouragement. We have done it, you can do the same, even if it’s only US$10,” he explained. “Everyone donating $10 will make a big difference.”
Cirque le Soir Dubai donated $3,000 as well as taking the challenge.
Other businesses see it as a way of connecting with customers and clients.
Atlantis The Palm was nominated by Ski Dubai to do the challenge at noon last Thursday. By 4.30pm Atlantis’s senior vice president of human resources, Gerard Moss, was on the beach with 350 staff and guests videoing the task.
“We had so many guests watching the filming of our video,” Mr Moss says. “I think our guests like to see our staff participating in something positive for charity. Apart from driving attention to worthwhile causes, they are a forum to express creativity.”
While the Atlantis team carried out the challenge under the hot sun, Arnaud Palu, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Leisure and Entertainment, ratcheted up the masochistic element of the challenge, carrying it out in temperatures of -4° at Ski Dubai, which the company owns.
For Mr Palu, the sense of fun the challenge presented matched the company’s values and its other corporate social responsibility activities.
“This one is a good fit with Majid Al Futtaim’s focus on community spirit and helping others,” he said. “We also made a donation to the ALS cause as well as making our video of the challenge, so it was a fun initiative that will ideally also do some good for people in need.”
The challenge isn’t perhaps for everyone. While the former president George W Bush did it, Barack Obama declined, saying he would donate instead. The US state department has also banned its ambassadors and other top foreign service employees from taking part.
“I wouldn’t recommend a big government institution does this,” said Sophie Toh, the founder of Toh Public Relations. “It’s too lighthearted. If you’ve got any kind of sense of identity you’ll know whether this is for you.”
Amy Sturgis, a Toh Public Relations employee, took the challenge before work (she lost the office vote) because the message that “we’ve got time in the working day to throw water over each other” isn’t one Ms Toh wanted to signal.
Companies should also avoid rushing to join in without researching the cause, warns Akanksha Goel, director of the digital agency Socialize in Dubai.
“It’s very easy to jump on to the bandwagon and say: ‘Ooh, everyone’s pouring an ice bucket on their heads, maybe I should do the same’,” she said. “The worst thing a brand or individual can do is try to ride the trend without understanding what the origin is, what the purpose is.”
Meanwhile, marketing gurus have been figuring out what makes the Ice Bucket Challenge so compelling so that other businesses can leverage that information when creating their own social media campaigns.
As well as using the opportunity to raise awareness of ALS, Socialize will use the Ice Bucket Challenge as a case study for clients because it’s useful “to show them the importance of recognising trends and having the brand … piggybacking on a trend,” said Ms Goel. “The Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral in the UAE, and we want to see what that means for consumer behaviour online.”
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