What Boaty McBoatface tells us about marketing to the public

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Britons may no longer be the scourge of Mediterranean resorts, or at least that’s what many people say- long since displaced from the top spot of nightmare tourists by other nationalities. Nevertheless, we carry a shameful reputation where sun, sand, and booze are concerned.
Similarly, although some of the world’s best restaurants and chefs are based on our islands, we are still not seen as the most culinary astute on the planet. And, when it comes to perceived sexiness, most of our continental counterparts far outweigh the classic image of residents from these parts.
There’s one instance in which Britons from all corners deserve a good pat on the back, though. Put simply, our sense of humour is renowned across the globe, either because half the world doesn’t really get it, or they fail to grasp how it’s possible for 65million people to collectively know how to take the mickey out of things to such an extent it threatens to kill off any chance of those things ever being taken seriously again.
Call it banter, mockery, satire, or just plain dry-as-a-desert comedy, we do it very well indeed. And that poses a bit of a problem for marketers, salespeople, and PRs. We are a cynical bunch, who, for one reason or another, would prefer not to look at life quite so seriously.
Whatever the truth, Boaty McBoatface is a case in point. If you’re not aware of the situation, it can be explained succinctly as follows: The Natural Environment Research Council has a new exploratory vessel. Before it gets put to sea in 2019 it needs a name. The decision was made to give the public a chance to have a say in what it should be christened as, via the internet. Someone suggested Boaty McBoatface- one of a number of ridiculous ideas- and the vast majority agreed this would be really rather funny.
Of course it’s probably not going to happen- such are the requirements to keep things serious when it comes to floating labs worth hundreds of millions. And there are plenty of examples from abroad when the public has thrown the proverbial book at the innocent agencies trying to get them involved in a campaign- in Austin, Texas, the city’s waste disposal service needed renaming, the consensus was Limp Bizkit frontman, Fred Durst. And Slovak lawyers had to override a movement to name a pedestrian bridge after the 1980s action star Chuck Norris.
Put simply, then, the public on the whole is cynical, but Britons arguably do it better. Who else would vote in favour of sending the Spice Girls on tour to Baghdad? And that’s just one in an endless stream of instances whereby well-meaning requests have been met with a shrug of the shoulders and a firm p!ss take.
So what can marketing and PR professionals do to avoid falling foul of the wry smiles, silly ideas, and the wrath of the internet in full on LoL mode? Well, not a lot, as was proven when that guy asked for help photoshopping a picture of the Eiffel Tower so it looked like he had his finger on the tip of the structure. At best, you can make sure there’s no fundamental reason for a backlash- hypocrisy, half truths and lies being the most obvious reasons not to offer something out for a public vote. It’s also wise to consider exactly how something will be worded (no #YourMum mistakes, please), and if the target audience you’re aiming for is actually the audience that will be most likely to pick up on the campaign once live. Not every demographic uses every form of social media, as the age old mantra goes.
Best of luck then.