Boaty McBoatface: joke or humiliation – you decide

This week, Mark Ritson, Marketing Professor, Marketing Columnist of the Year and general Wise Man of Marketing took exception to the public’s choice of Boaty McBoatface in a crowdsourcing exercise to choose the name for the National Environment Research Council’s (NERC) new polar research ship.  Up to this point, most commentators had seen it as bit of harmless fun.  It  restored their faith in the British public’s sense of humour and their desire to prick the balloon of pomposity that generally surrounds these things.


Ritson believes this story proves the public would rather humiliate your brand than engage with it.  As he puts it:

“The NERC’s competition to name its new boat is the latest in a cavalcade of crowdsourcing disasters, demonstrating that consumers are a bunch of brand-haters.”

Even worse than that, as he warms to his theme:

“In the happy, completely detached world of digital marketing there is a common fallacy that the sarcastic brand-hating bastards that populate the planet are actually an army of jovial optimists who simply cannot wait to engage with your organisation on social media.  Unless you grasp the dystopian nature of consumer culture, you miss the inherent danger.”

I’m a great respecter of Mark Ritson and I think I understand what he’s driving at.  There’s a lot of nonsense talked about brands and social media.  Brands are an unwelcome intrusion in social media just as they were “the unwelcome guest in your living room” when we were talking about TV ads in the old days.  But it’s overstating it to say we hate brands (except maybe Marmite – truly the Devil’s work).

As Plan B said “Hating takes too much energy”.  We’re simply not that bothered.  And if we get the chance to take the piss and suggest a daft name for something we previously never knew existed – so much the better.  How we laughed.

The point here is that in the real world, brands aren’t such a big deal.  They exist mostly to make our choices easy – to provide defaults and heuristics (sorry, jargon alert, won’t do it again, and I definitely won’t launch into Andrew Ehrenberg’s weak theory of advertising). They’re only really there so we don’t have to think about trivial stuff.  And honestly, it doesn’t get any more trivial than the name of the NERC’s polar exploration vessel.

As Ritson points out, there is some previous on the ‘daft names’ front. Take a look at the following – this is what happened when US juice drink Mountain Dew asked for suggestions to name a new apple drink:


I don’t think they used the name.  But I hope NERC do.




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