ALS Ice Bucket Challenges have become the latest internet fad, with everyone from Mitt Romney to Patrick Stewart flocking to the cause. And for a while it was all fun and games – simply dump some ice cold water on your head and challenge 3 people you’d pay good money to see do the same.
That changed for me when I saw Anthony Carbajal, a wedding photographer I’d worked with last year, do the challenge – and with over 13 million views in less than 5 days, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who was moved.
But what made his video so good? Why did it go viral so quickly? And perhaps most interestingly, why did his story rise above other heart-wrenching stories?
I. He Built an Audience
As a wedding photographer Anthony had built a solid network on Facebook with both his clients as well as peers in the wedding industry. Personally, I had the pleasure of working with Anthony at the wedding in October 2013, and it was an absolute blast.
Then, three months later, Anthony was diagnosed with ALS at 26 – and he decided to open up about what that actually means:
After opening up about his challenges publicly, waves of both support and criticism fell on him. I remember reading a facebook post where he mentioned he had to cancel (and reimburse) 26 weddings because he was no longer able to shoot, and asked for support. Another photographer quickly lambasted him as ‘asking for handouts,’ and to ‘suck it up.’ Others defended him just as quickly, and thankfully the vast majority circled around to support him.
Over the next 8 months he continued to post photos, videos and updates on his struggles, and in return we continued to help in what ways we could. In other words: he molded us into his core audience. We cared. We were emotionally invested.
II. A Genuine Story
Did Anthony set out to be featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show? No. Was he pushing us to donate? No. He simply set out to do one thing: tell his story, raw, personal and unfiltered.
So let’s break down why Anthony’s Ice Bucket Challenge worked so well.
First, he hooks us with an (awkwardly) entertaining montage that matches his messaging and personality to a T. It’s a clash of the man he is inside with the constraints of the disease, and the juxtaposition couldn’t be more powerful.
Then we dig into his story – raw, emotional, unfiltered. We see that his Mom has ALS, and the brutal effects it has. The image of him catching her head as it uncontrollably rolls forward against her chest will be forever burned into my memory. We now understand exactly what the disease is.
And then it clicks – that’s where he’s headed. That could be his future.
He immediately has our attention. As a storyteller once told me, we don’t care how many times someone fails or succeeds – we care how hard they try. And Anthony – he’s giving it everything he’s got.
Then, after all that, he turns it around and ends with a genuine thank-you to everyone who’s chipped in – simultaneously deepening existing relationships, and making others want in.
This did not happen overnight. This video would not have had the viral effect it did without the hard work he’d put in not only over the past 8 months, but his entire life. He’s had thousands of updates, photos and videos and that STILL wasn’t enough to tip the scale. His audience was growing, but limited.
It took a wrinkle in fate to give him and his community a chance to shine. Suddenly, ALS was in the public spotlight, and he leapt at the opportunity. When he shared his video, his core audience gladly re-shared it, liked it, and challenged other peers in his honor. They were the snowflake that started the avalanche. And then, with a sudden relevancy to people outside his network, his story was given the opportunity to spring to life.
The takeaway? Predicting or even hoping for a viral video is not realistic, and capturing an audience with a genuine story requires hard, consistent work. But you do have the power to set the stage.
Anthony – your fortitude is without limits, and I hope your story continues to soar.
Anything you’d like to hear more about? Let me know here or @KarlStelter.