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Summer 2014 was spent dumping buckets of ice water over our heads as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The mega-viral campaign encouraged people to donate to the ALS Association, and now a related charity is piggybacking on its success—perhaps by guilting people into doing more.
The Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association, a British charity focused on care, research, and campaigning for diseases like ALS, just launched the Last Summer campaign. The name is a reference to the Ice Bucket Challenge craze and the $220 million that it helped raise for research.
A series of ads and the hashtag #lastsummer have been released into the wild, and they’ve left U.K. train riders and Internet users perplexed.
The text reads: “Last summer, I was the only person I knew who didn’t do the Ice Bucket Challenge. Five months later I was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.” Michael Smith, 34, is the man depicted in the accompanying photo.
From the brief story told in the ad, produced in part by U.K. agency Neo, it sounds almost as if Smith developed a MND—a disease categorization in the U.K. which includes ALS—because he didn’t participate in the challenge. But his actual story on the MND Association website provides crucial context.
In an email to the Daily Dot, Chris James, Director of External Affairs for the MND Association, explained the reasoning behind the controversial ads.
“This year we felt this was our last opportunity to speak to an audience that may have done the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) last summer,” James said, “whether for ALS or MND, and maybe didn’t really know why they were doing it or some of the facts behind what is such a devastating disease.”
The MND Association found Smith through an interview he did with a local newspaper about his condition, in which he joked that his diagnosis was “karma” for not doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. That might explain how his story was framed in the ad.
“We thought the story was powerful and poignant, and Michael was keen to share it too with as wide an audience as possible,” James added.
But despite the association’s pure intentions, people are still questioning the tone and message.
“At no point did anyone involved in the poster campaign development think that ‘bad karma’ would be the interpretation of Michael’s poster quote,” James said in response to the backlash. “It’s a powerful statement of fact; poignant and ironic but there was certainly no implication of ‘bad karma’ and we’ve been somewhat surprised by that response.”
Getting decidedly less play is another ad for the campaign, featuring a woman named Alisa. Her message provides a more hopeful, and less confusing, message.
Motor Neurone Disease Association
The prognosis is grim for both Michael and Alisa, and ultimately the MND Association’s #lastsummer campaign is just looking to help them and all the others suffering, especially since June is Motor Neurone Disease Awareness Month.
James said they’re not even looking to raise any more money—just awareness. And right now, there’s no shortage of that.
Photo via @RyanJohnNelson/Twitter
Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.