Great Crowdsourced Naming Disasters
Coming up with a decent name for something can be tricky. In the modern age, getting vast amounts of people to voice an opinion on something has never been easier. Asking the internet for help seems like a great idea — free publicity, increased brand awareness and hopefully, a catchy name that already comes pre-approved with the public — what can go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. This is a lesson that numerous companies and organisations have found out the hard way. And it seems to be a lesson that keeps needing to be learned. Unfortunately, it’s a bad idea that is one online joker away from a publicity nightmare.
There are probably hundreds of cases where it has gone wrong but here are some of the best.
The Royal Research Ship Boaty McBoatface
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) deemed it a good idea to let the public decide on a name for a new polar research ship. The response was… creative. The British public sent in over 7,000 entries, including the RRS I Like Big Boats & I Cannot Lie and the RRS Capt’n Birdseye Get Off My Cod.
Then a former BBC radio presenter came up with RRS Boaty McBoatface. This was a name that got everyone to rally round and nominate. With 124,109 votes, it was almost 90,000 votes ahead of all the others.
Deciding it was a tad undignified to call a Royal Research Ship by such a ridiculous moniker, the NERC went for the fifth place entry, the RRS David Attenborough. This had come in with 10,284 votes, just a few behind the fourth-place entry, the RRS It’s bloody cold here.
The RRS David Attenborough is now at sea and its lead autosub long-range autonomous vehicle is called — Boaty McBoatface. So it wasn’t all a colossal waste of time.
Greenpeace names a whale
Sticking with the nautical theme, let’s shift to the South Pacific Ocean. In 2007, Greenpeace was tracking some humpback whales and wanted to highlight awareness of the threat to the creatures by Japanese whalers. They decided to let the internet decide on a name for one of the whales.
They wisely restricted the choice to just 30 selections and limited everyone to just one vote each. Unwisely, one of those selections was the joke name of ‘Mister Splashy Pants’. Someone in Arizona found a way to disable cookies and so was able to bypass the one vote system. They then proceeded to place 120 votes a minute for Mister Splashy Pants.
This went on for 38 minutes before it was stopped and the votes were removed. However, the surge up the charts had not gone unnoticed by a variety of internet chatrooms and voting for Mister Splashy Pants rocketed once more. Reddit took the vote so seriously it even changed its logo to a Mister Splashy Pants logo.
The name was a clear winner with 119,367 votes, which was a whopping 78% of all votes cast. The whereabouts of Mister Splashy Pants and his buddies can be tracked on the Greenpeace website.
A ferry called S.S. ShouldveBeenABridge
In British Columbia, Canada, BC ferries had three new vessels to launch and asked their customers to come up with something good. Predictably things went delightfully wrong.
What the company hadn’t factored in, was that all the locals were annoyed at them. The line had been going through some tough times and so had cut senior discounts, stopped serving some of the smaller communities and had then threatened a ticket price rise of up to 80%. The people weren’t happy.
Among the top votes were ‘Incompetence Afloat’, ‘Spirit of the WalletSucker’, and ‘S.S. ShouldveBeenABridge’. Fortunately for the ferry company, the votes were advisory. In the end, they wisely chose three different options.
The Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts
When Austin, Texas, decided they needed a nicer name for their ‘Solid Waste Services Department’, aka a dump, they asked people on the internet. They set up a poll on the Austin community website forum and asked the good people of the city to decide and vote on some names.
Among the options were: ‘Waste not, want not’, ‘The Ministry of Filth’, ‘The Department of Neat and Clean’ and ‘Hufflepuff’. All good choices. The name that started to pull ahead, however, was ‘The Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts’.
In case you are familiar with the gentleman, Fred Durst was the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, responsible for classics such as ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water’. It all seemed like a good match and once it became more popular on the internet, even Fred Durst himself endorsed the idea.
Sadly, like a lot of others on in this article, Austin decided to go in another direction with it and chose ‘Austin Resource Recovery’. Which is a shame.
NASA gives crowdsourcing a try
In 2009, NASA was planning on sending up a new node for the International Space Station. It needed a name and being a fearless (but usually quite intelligent) group of people, they opted to let average humans have a go at naming it.
They gave some helpful suggestions for the kind of vibe they were aiming for — Serenity, Legacy, Earthrise and Venture. Or people could, you know, pick one of their own.
Stephen Colbert, whose ‘Colbert Report’ was immensely popular at the time, suggested to his audience that they pick his name. And that is exactly what happened, with ‘Colbert’ winning by more than 40,000 votes.
It could have been a lot worse, just see all the above, but it wasn’t going to work for NASA. They were pretty cool about it, however, and sent astronaut Suni Williams to appear on the show. Williams explained that the node would be called Tranquility but there was a treadmill being sent up as well. The treadmill was named Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill. Or for short: C.O.L.B.E.R.T. Stephen Colbert was delighted.
And finally, the ‘Dub the Dew’ fiasco
When Mountain Dew invented a new drink described as ‘Classic Mountain Dew with green apple attitude’, one of their marketing team thought it brilliant publicity to let the masses name the drink. It certainly got attention but not really how they had hoped. Things went so wrong with the campaign, it ended up being shut down.
Like so many others, the primary mistake was to let readers and voters choose anything they wanted. Again, pranksters on boards like 4Chan and Reddit stepped up to the challenge. Early contenders included ‘Fapple’, ‘Gushing Granny’ and ‘Diabeetus’. All were pretty unfortunate choices but the winner was even worse.
When it turned out that the number one choice was ‘Hitler did nothing wrong’, the plug was pulled. There was no way to get around that and somehow include it as other campaigns had done. Rather unimaginatively, the drink was then called ‘Apple Mountain Dew’.
You would think that the lesson learned here is an obvious one: Don’t trust the public. Yet, as the above examples have shown, it is a lesson that is bafflingly ignored time and time again. These are just the better-known examples and sadly, they are unlikely to be the last.