Some of you may be aware of the Boaty McBoatFace story that has been apppearing in the press in recent weeks. The basics of the story are that the UK Government is launching a new science ship to operate in the Antarctic ocean, and they had an online poll to decide what the ship should be named.
Now their first mistake wasn’t to choose a list of names, and get the public to vote for their favourite, it was to allow the general public to choose their own name suggestions. This led to the suggesting of the name “Boaty McBoatface” as the name for this science vessel, a name which hooked into the public consciousness and led to it getting four times the votes of any other suggestion, and becoming a popular meme, with buses in Glasgow having “Bussy McBusFace” on their boards when not in use, trains in Newcastle’s Metro system having the similar Trainy McTrainFace on them, and many others.
Now after winning the public vote, did the academics and bureaucrats in charge of this poll let the public decision stand? Of course they didn’t, and while there were some fairly reasonable reasons for not going with that name, I personally think they missed a massive opportunity, wasted public goodwill, and wasted a wonderful public relations opportunity.
So, imagine for a moment, the world where they launch the UK science vessel, Boaty McBoatFace, imagine the school outings to see it launched, imagine painting a big cartoon smiling face on the front of the ship. The toy opportunities, the interest you’d get from young kids in science when it’s fronted by a large smiling ship. The joy from people as it returns to port, taking the family to see the silly named, but joyful Boaty McBoatFace. Hell, you could even do a merchandising deal with MacDonalds to get toy ships in Happy Meals, which might not be good for the health of the nation, but better to get some of that money going to – and promoting science rather than to promoting the latest animated movie.
With good planning this could have been a coup, getting and keeping exposure far beyond that a science ship would normally get. And the public would have remained engaged and have formed a connection with the ship they named. Whereas now, the ship has been given a different name, and it will forever be the ship that the public never got their will to name Boaty McBoatFace.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the ship has been named the Sir David Attenborough (the favoured name of the man who actually suggested Boaty McBoatFace), a fine name for a science ship and a fine thank you to a man who has brought natural science to the masses for many decades, and if they’d just made it one of many options, instead of letting the public suggest their own, I’m sure it would have won, I’m sure that a public wave of support could have rallied behind that name, and the beloved celebrity the ship has now been named after.
Their reason for discarding Boaty McBoatFace has been stated as, the ship will be operating in dangerous seas, and reporting any bad news related to Boaty McBoatFace would disrespect those serving aboard and risking their lives in the name of science. While perhaps a consideration, in my mind, reporting that 3 sailors were injured aboard Boaty McBoatFace in an accident, or 3 sailors were injured aboard Sir David Attenborough in an accident, doesn’t improve the situation greatly.
What can we learn from this . . . Firstly, never underestimate the silliness of the general public and how they love to bring a little chaos and disorder to public institutions. Secondly, never discard something just because you think it doesn’t provide enough gravitas, or take your idea seriously, maybe, just maybe, that sense of fun might add a whole new level to your endeavour. Thirdly, if you don’t want silly suggestions, sometimes the only way to avoid them is to not give people the choice of giving them at all. Fourthly, if someone suggests something and everyone else says it’s good, perhaps it really is good and you should be flexible enough to accept that your ideas aren’t always the best.
This of course is only my opinion, please feel free to comment below and let me know whether you think I’m right, or wronger than a very wrong thing.
Thank you for reading.
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