Boaty McBoatface: The Perils of Naming By Crowdsourcing

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NERC Boaty McBoatface

Everyone loves crowdsourcing. McDonald’s burger builder and Wayze traffic data have shown us how crowdsourcing reflects customer preferences to create products that better fit their needs or even adapt to real-time customer realities—not to mention, save time on product innovation.

So it’s no surprise that brands look to crowdsourcing when it comes to naming new products. If it’s for the customers, why not let the customers name it?

Here’s why not: People will vote for anything. Mountain Dew learned this the hard way during its 2012 Dub the Dew contest. Among the top names put forward for its new green-apple-flavored soft drink were “Hitler did nothing wrong” and “Diabeetus.” Ouch.

The UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) recently launched a #NameOurShip contest to name its $300 million Antarctic polar survey vessel. The brief:

“An inspirational name that reflects the ship’s importance and perhaps gives a nod to its role in science by referencing famous British scientists and explorers.”

The frontrunner? Boaty McBoatface.

All in all, it’s not quite the name NERC was hoping for but one that has taken the internet by storm. Boaty McBoatface has 21,000 votes, almost 10 times more than second-place candidate and slightly tamer option, Henry Worsley.

The communications manager who suggested the name has since apologized—but maintains that Boaty McBoatface is a “brilliant name.”

Fortunately, the citizens of the internet aren’t the final word on a name for the RRS Newboat, but rather a (hopefully vetted) panel.

The lesson here probably goes without saying, but just in case: Leave naming to the experts and use crowdsourcing to pick new flavors of potato chips.


Callie Deddens is an Associate Consultant in Verbal Identity at Interbrand. In her free time she reads restaurant menus and writes about them. 

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