I read a story yesterday about the opportunity to win a dream job in Cancun, for which the outcome will be ultimately decided by a public vote. Obviously the campaign creators haven’t read my post about how Crayola’s prize promotion to find a name for its new blue crayon backfired (moral of the story, if the result matters, don’t ask the public and find another prize promotion mechanism instead). Reading about this, put me in mind of other times the Internet – or more accurately the companies that opt to use online polls to make important business decisions – has screwed up big time, so here are five of my favourite moments the Internet got it wrong.
- Vegemite developed a new product which mixed the Australian version of Marmite with cream cheese and foolishly asked the Internet what it should be called. The winner was iSnack 2.0, a cliche that had no connection to the savoury spread whatsoever. People asked, if this is iSnack 2.0, where is iSnack 1.0? It took just four days for the name to be withdrawn. The product was eventually relaunched as Vegemite Cheesybite (OK, maybe that isn’t a lot better), but jars of iSnack 2.0 became collectors’ items which you can sometimes pick up on Australian eBay.
- A couple of years ago, BC Ferries, which operates coastal ferries in the Canadian province of British Columbia, asked the public to name three new vessels, offering a $500 voucher as a prize. The company knew enough to draw up some terms and conditions, and the criteria included the rule that names should ‘reflect BC Ferries’, which unfortunately produced entries such as Spirit of The WalletSucker and Coastal Complainer (and there were some even less complimentary ones, too). Topping the poll was The Floating Crapsicle, so BC Ferries decided to ignore the public vote – they were in danger of drowning in ridicule by this point – and chose Orca, Eagle and Raven instead.
- And talking of sea-faring vessels, I can’t not mention the legendary public relations disaster that was Boaty McBoatface. When the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) asked the public to name its new polar research ship, the good people of the Internet overwhelming chose something utterly ridiculous. NERC ultimately decided to ignore the people’s choice in favour of the much more sensible Sir David Attenborough, after the revered naturalist, although it did at least have the good grace to name a small submarine Boaty McBoatface.
- Mind you, the Internet had some form in this area in the shape of Mr Splashy Pants, the humpbacked whale. To raise awareness of the threat to whales from fishing, environmental organisation, Greenpeace, ran an online poll to name a particular whale, which it was tracking. In this instance, the public spoke and Greenpeace had the decency to listen, although who knows what the whale thought about its new moniker. The incident subsequently spawned a TED talk on how to make a ‘splash’ in social media.
- Finally, I love the story about the bonkers Canadian couple who went to all the trouble of running an online poll to find a name for their baby daughter, at a time when surely they should have been out buying baby grows or painting the nursery – only to ignore the results! The Internet said her first name should be Cthulhu (apparently some kind of fictional cosmic entity), but Alysha and Stephen McLaughlin went for the second choice, Amelia (boring!). Honestly, some parents!
As you’ll remember, at Prizeology we specialise in prize promotions that engage people but enable you to stay in control of the outcomes. As you might imagine, I don’t recommend online polls…
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist, an IPM Board Director, and a SCAMbassador for National Trading Standards Scams Team.