The McFace Saga – The Dangers of Crowdsourcing Names

It is not difficult to realize that you take a substantial risk when you give your audience input on valuable aspects of your business. Just because your audience members are the ones who you’re trying to find the perfect product name for doesn’t mean that they are going to be willing, or even able, to give you that perfect name you’re looking for. Moreover, asking your audience an open-ended question can lead to a variety of different responses, not all of them responses that you feel would represent your business. To cap it all off, you are setting yourself up when you ask your audience for  input. Your audience wants to see the ideas they’ve given you put to use, and not using them can lead to offense on their part.

This is the dilemma currently faced by a group in San Diego as they attempt to find a name for their new Major League Soccer Name. Leading in the polls for the crowdsourced naming competition is the name “Footy McFootyface,” which has more than double the votes of the previous option. While it is unlikely that San Diego will want to name their team “Footy McFootyface” or that the league will allow the team to have such a name, this has left the group holding the poll in a bit of a bind. The placed themselves at the mercies of the internet’s collective “wisdom,” and rejecting it will not net them positive face to those people who were willing and dedicated enough to take the poll. What course of action should they pursue? As it would turn out, there is a case to draw from which this one harkens back to, the thrilling tale of Boaty McBoatface.

Boaty McBoatface

The UK’s National Environment Research Council faced a similar dilemma when they asked audience members to name their new ship. Overwhelmingly, the results claimed that the people wanted to see the RRS Boaty McBoatface set sail. The council faced the decision of either caving into the audiences demands (possibly compromising their professional image), or rejecting the audience’s idea. The council found an effective compromise however. The ship was christened the RRS Sir David Attenborough, much to the disappointment of those watching, but the research council did not want their audience to feel as if they hadn’t been listened to. The name Boaty McBoatface ended up being given to three unmanned submersible units that would assist with the ship’s research. While people were still disappointed that Boaty McBoatface was not a boat but a submarine, the audience was placated. The Research Council has even capitalized on the publicity of Boaty, referring to the expiditions by the currently functional submarines as “the adventures of Boaty,” and going as far to create a cartoon character based on the Boaty McBoatface sub to help children learn about their research.

You can’t take every bit of advice that your public offers you. To paraphrase a quote from Men in Black, a person is smart – people on the other hand, are not. The advice given to us intentionally by large publics will hardly ever be something which can be considered “good.” We must remember however, that even if we don’t decide to formulate our strategy based on the ideas our publics give us, we need to let our publics know that we’re listening to them. We can’t be afraid to incorporate what our audience tells us into our existing strategy (so long as we do so with self-control). I hope this is something that the Sand Diego soccer team remembers as they consider the name “Footy McFootyface.”

By Steven Case, Junior Account Executive, Communication Department

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