Boaty McBoatface: Why Crowdsourced Marketing Sometimes Fails

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It’s no secret that crowdsourced marketing is hot…actually, to be precise, it’s on fire.

Research reveals that 85 percent of the best global brands used crowdsourcing from 2004-2014. Not to mention, PepsiCo increased its use of crowdsourcing by more than 325 percent in 2014.

What’s intriguing about crowdsourcing as an increasing popular marketing technique is when it fails, because generally there are plenty of lessons to be gained from its lack of success.

Enter “Boaty McBoatface” — the crowdsourced name for a $287 million British government research ship that went viral last week.

Okay, to be fair, the ship won’t actually be named Boaty McBoatface, though if the internet masses had their way, it would. The ship is owned by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) and in an attempt to name their ship they opened an internet poll for naming suggestions. This is when things went awry. As a joke, James Hand, a public relations professional and former BBC employee came up with the name Boaty McBoatface after seeing other suggestions online that seemed equally as silly.

Silly? No, the public felt differently. The internet had a field day and Hand’s name received the most number of votes by members of the public, sparking a full on media frenzy with journalists poking fun at the idea that a serious government institution would allow the public to name such an important piece of scientific history.

Lucky for NERC, they are not bound to using Hand’s suggested name. Though as an unexpected bonus of their naming poll, their website saw a huge spike in Google traffic this month due to people searching for their institution’s name after hearing about Boaty McBoatface.

Despite their search result success, many experts are calling NERC’s crowdsourced naming campaign a failure because they likely won’t name the ship Boaty McBoatface.

Here are three marketing lessons that companies can learn from NERC about mistakes to avoid when crowdsourcing.

Don’t crowdsource everyone, only your target market

NERC made the mistake of polling the public for a ship name rather than polling a specific group of people who either work in environmental sciences or are part of that community. Sure, the suggested names might have been more serious, arguably more boring, but if ultimately the people who are going to be following the ship’s missions will be people in that scientific community, then it makes sense to use names that appeal to them.

Customers don’t always know what they want

It’s your job as a marketer or business owner to have a pretty good idea of what your customers want and anticipate their future needs. While crowdsourcing them about their preferences for products, names or content is a magnificent idea in theory, you need to keep in mind that sometimes what they say they want isn’t actually what they want. No doubt the people who voted for Boaty McBoatface simply thought the name was hilarious, yet if they actually saw that ship name in the news describing an incredibly important scientific research exploration, they might think differently about the mission.

Give customers options, but not free rein

NERC probably would have had more success with their poll if they provided five to ten suggested names and had people vote on them. Or alternately, if they polled the public for names and then narrowed them down to the best five, getting people to vote on those five names. Leaving your questions too open-ended for crowdsourcing campaigns can lead to unrealistic name, product or content suggestions.

Shereen Dindar
Shereen Dindar was a Content Manager at QuickTapSurvey in 2015 and 2016. Have a story idea? Email us at