Boaty McBoatface: A PR masterstroke? | Media First

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Boaty McBoatface: A PR masterstroke?

Generally speaking, when a company or organisation encourages the internet to make a serious decision for them it ends badly.

Whether it is through a branded hashtag or online poll the consequences can be horrendous.

The latest in a long line of these online mishaps is the National Environment Research Council (NERC) which is staring at the possibility of naming its new state-of-the-art £200m polar research ship Boaty McBoatface, or Royal Research Ship Boaty McBoatface to give it its full name, after turning to the internet for inspiration.

NERC had suggested dignified names for the vessel, such as Shackleton, Endeavour and Falcon at the launch of the naming competition. But the internet had other ideas.

Its Bloody Cold Here; What Iceberg, Captain Haddock; Big Shipinnit and Big Metal Floaty Thingy-thing are among the suggestions put forward by the creative people on the web.

And the clear front runner in the surprisingly popular poll is Boaty McBoatface, which has blown its rivals out of the water.

All a bit embarrassing for NERC and the serious nature of its scientific work you would imagine. Or is it?

The decision to let the internet have its say has led to unprecedented public engagement – so much so the poll sunk under the weight of the traffic on Sunday - and widespread media and social media coverage of what, let’s face it, is a pretty niche subject.

The story has been covered extensively around the world and has dramatically increased the profile of NERC. It is the type of coverage that money and advertising cannot buy and has gone far beyond the ‘marine enthusiasts’ the organisation hoped to capture through the competition.

Such has been the level of interest that the man who suggested the name has apologised and Boaty McBoatface already has its own spoof Twitter account.

Alison Robinson, from NERC, is rightly delighted with the coverage. She said: “We’ve had thousands of suggestions made on the website since we officially launched. Many of them reflect the importance of the ship’s scientific role by celebrating great British explorers and scientists. Others are more unusual but we’re pleased that people are embracing the idea in a spirit of fun.”

So whether it was through luck or judgement the campaign has been an unprecedented success.

But there are choppy waters ahead for NERC to navigate.

Amid all the media coverage of the last few days has been the confirmation that the final name will be chosen by a panel of experts, even if the public continue to vote for Boaty McBoatface.

Judging by the interest it has generated so far it could face quite a backlash. And then its crisis media management skills could be put to the test.



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