Ever heard of a Gushing Granny?
Well, the sick schmucks who wanted to name an apple-infused version of Mountain Dew wanted you to. The kicker? That gross name wasn’t even the winner. The “crowd favorite” was Hitler Did Nothing Wrong, which, apart from showing just what a-holes people (a lot of people) can be, was not the image the brand was going for with an apple-flavored soft drink.
Using crowdsourcing to name a product or vessel or space station or a migrating humpback whale WILL get you a lot of publicity, but it will probably throw in a free PR disaster as well, just for giggles. Take mister Splashy Pants, an unfortunate humpback whale that now bears the winning name of a 2007 crowdsourcing campaign by Greenpeace. Given, he probably doesn’t know that he’s called Mister Splashy Pants, but you can see how people suck.
The same trend was seen in 2009 when NASA wanted to crowdsource the name of its new node on the international space station. Even with an approved short list of four names, voters submitted their own suggestions and the leader was “Xenu” (Scientology’s galactic overlord) until Stephen Colbert encouraged his fans to vote for “Colbert”, and vote they did. “Colbert” ended up with 40,000 more votes than the leading NASA-proposed name. NASA chose to ignore the results of the campaign and faced ugly PR backlash because of the decision. They ended up naming the node Tranquility, completely ignoring even their own suggestions, but Colbert got a treadmill on the space station named after him at least.
The newest crowdsourcing debacle is Boaty McBoatface. Yes, you read that right. Earlier this year, the National Environment Research Council (NERC) wanted to name its new polar research ship, but the organization decided to throw out the whole serious process of naming a sea-faring vessel and chose instead to try to generate brand awareness and buzz by running a crowdsourcing campaign to come up with a worthy name. The results? Boaty McBoatface with 124,109 votes as the polls closed. Now, NERC is faced with the all too common crowdsourcing dilemma: to reject the winner and deal with the ensuing PR backlash and consumer (voter) disappointment, or to suck it up and have Boaty McBoatface be the most elegant ship on the sea for the next fifty years or so.
These sorts of stories are what we like to call “crowdslapping”, which is exactly as painful as it sounds, even if it is figurative. These days, companies like to think that because they can communicate so closely with consumers, that said consumers won’t be troll-y, sarcastic jerks. Not the case. So think twice about trusting these shadow-dwelling brand-haters with ANYTHING, especially something as important as brand integrity and hard-fought attention and good PR.