The AV blog - why David Cameron should fear Boaty McBoatface

21 March 2016


This is actually happening - news outlets around the world reported the news with astonishment

WHEN interviewing someone recently on the Brexit vote, they raised the prospect that the whole thing was a disaster waiting to happen because the British public couldn’t be trusted with such an important decision.

They weren’t knowledgeable enough, wouldn’t take it seriously enough and finding the public in a bad or mischievous mood could spell trouble, he said.

Harsh as that may seem, our interviewee might have had a point thanks to James Hand, the man behind a suggestion to name a new polar research vessel Boaty McBoatface.

The Natural Environment Research Council launched a competition for the public to come up with a name for its £200 million ship, urging us to give it a moniker for something inspirational and reflected the ship’s important work.

Mr Hand, as a joke, suggested Boaty McBoatface and, lo and behold, the name took off to such an extent that it has smashed rivals out of the water. The name has accumulated 27,000 votes, compared to the second placed name which has 3,000.

It became a huge smash on Twitter, made worldwide news and no doubt had the NERC communications team raising their eyes to the Heavens.

In PR terms, it may have seemed a good idea to get everyone involved to help raise awareness of the worthy work the vessel will undertake.  Launching the competition, Universities & science minister, Jo Johnson, said: "Can you imagine one of the world's biggest research labs travelling to the Antarctic with your suggested name proudly emblazoned on the side? They no doubt expected a low turnout of mainly nautical interest.

But there is always the propensity by the British public to have fun with things, and with news now going global at the hit of a button, no way of stopping a ship once it has set sail. And as the Beeb reported, they're not the only ones to fall foul of an online poll going wrong.

But if NERC are wondering how this has all come about, they need not worry, because thanks to Mr Hand, this has unwittingly been the perfect PR stunt. It has raised awareness beyond all conceivable levels, and the NERC had wisely stuck in their T&Cs the fact that a panel will choose the final name regardless of the vote, which was just for suggestions.

I’m betting when the vessel does set sail in 2019, it won’t be called Boaty McBoatface, which is a shame as it’s a great name.

But in there somewhere is a lesson of be careful what you wish for when letting the public loose with a vote.  David Cameron beware.



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