Is 22 Pushups this August's Ice Bucket Challenge?

A new phenomenon has taken root on social media in August, the same month the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge proliferated two years ago, to demonstrate the power of the internet as a viral communications platform.

This summer the 22 Pushup Challenge is taking over the internet.
This summer the 22 Pushup Challenge is taking over the internet.

All industries are different but August is a strange month in many ways. Schools are on holiday and cities empty out as people take vacations. The pace of work slows a little as summer Fridays and long weekends become the norm for a few valuable weeks.

There are fewer big events, conferences, and initiatives taking place. The media starts looking for silly season stories (apart from this year, when we have one long-running silly season story leading up to the general election and Friday's official launch of the Olympics in Rio.)

I’m generalizing of course, and I’m fully aware the pace of work for many people, especially in agency-land, continues on an as remorselessly fast-paced path as ever. I know there are several high-profile pitches going on at the moment, for example, which involves the usual late nights and working weekends. Such is the lot of the agency PR pro.

In any case, for myself and many others I liken it to pre-season in the sports world, when the ground work and strategic planning is put in place for the nine months’ hard graft ahead.

It was exactly this time two years ago that the Ice Bucket Challenge craze hit the internet, taking over social media like an uncontrollable wildfire and ending up with every man, woman, and their dog (literally sometimes) dousing themselves with icy water in aid of the ALS Association and the fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease and relevant local organizations around the world.

I well remember going on to the roof of PRWeek Towers myself and getting soaked in aid of the cause – many PR folks did the same. It was one of those genuinely viral phenomena that comes along once a blue moon and literally assumes a life of its own. If brands could bottle that and infuse it within their communications, that would truly be the Holy Grail for marketers.

Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball star, inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge and it was an incredibly moving moment for everyone present when his mother Nancy accepted the PRWeek Awards 2015 Communicator of the Year award on Pete’s behalf at our gala dinner in New York City last year.

And the good news is that, two years on, the $220 million raised for the ALS Association is starting to make a real difference. Scientists and researchers across 11 countries funded by the association identified a new ALS gene, NEK1, which ranks high among the most common genetic factors associated with ALS.

John Landers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School says: "This work from gene discovery to understanding disease mechanism is bringing us leaps and bounds toward finding treatments and cures for ALS."

At the time people said there would never be another phenomenon like the Ice Bucket Challenge, but in the last couple of weeks I have noticed another viral message spreading across my social media feeds – the 22 Pushup Challenge.

This has been more of a slow-burner than the Ice Bucket Challenge, but August is once again the month when it seems to have gained most traction and is really taking off on both sides of the Atlantic, in the U.S. and U.K.

Originated by 22Kill, a global movement set up by an organization called Honor Courage Commitment, it aims to elicit a total of 22 million pushups to create awareness of the fact 22 veterans die by suicide every day and to educate the public about mental health.

Participants must do 22 pushups for 22 consecutive days and nominate two friends on each of those days to join the challenge. It’s a much heavier commitment than the Ice Bucket Challenge and much more physically exerting – but it also engages more people via each example of the challenge that appears on social media.

Like ALS, the issue of the ongoing welfare of veterans who have served their countries is something most everyone can get behind, especially as 100% of donations to organizations such as 22Kill go toward the support of empowerment programs and services for veterans and their families.

U.S. forces have teamed up with their British counterparts to participate in the challenge, including those who themselves sustained devastating injuries on the battlefield. Sports stars, police forces, fire departments, politicians, and thousands of individuals have also joined in.

Actually, I don’t think it will turn into as widespread a phenomenon as the Ice Bucket Challenge, for the reasons I mentioned above – I’m not sure I could do 22 pushups once, let alone for 22 consecutive days, although seeing multiple amputees taking up the challenge does rather put me to shame.

But I do think it is another great example of a viral social media activation that proves the amazing global reach and power of channels such as Facebook - an activation from which all communicators and marketers can learn.

And anything that raises awareness of such an important issue has got to be a good thing. Time to get down the gym and start working on those guns…

* Have you or any of your colleagues in the PR industry done the 22 Pushup Challenge? Send us links to your videos and we'll give them some airspace.

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