What can I say? It’s what the internet was invented for. If you’re unfamiliar with the background, read the full story on your favorite news content provider, it won’t take you long to find.
Here’s the short version. The Natural Environment Research Council opened a public poll earlier this year to name their new $300m research vessel. There were 7,000 names volunteered by the British public via an online poll; most of these were historical in theme or recognized some great public figure. You know the drill. The RRS Intrepid or the RSS Shakespeare (RSS being the UK equivalent of USS.) You don’t need a great deal of imagination to come up with this stuff, you need even less imagination to stick your hand in the well shaken bag of names and pick one.
Then, as the British say, things went boss-eyed. A throwaway joke from a BBC presenter called James Hand suggested the vessel should be named Boaty McBoatface. I don’t know why he chose this particular name, but he did. And the British public’s dry sense of humo(u)r did the rest.
As the voting closed this week, Boaty McBoatface led the poll with 124,109 votes, several nautical miles ahead of its competition.
As bureaucrats scramble to point out that the small print always said that the poll was ‘advisory’ and that the council would choose the name, we the people can expect to be disappointed. There will be no Boaty McBoatface.
But there should be. The NERC are missing a fantastic opportunity here. It’s more than a PR opportunity or some cheap column inches, it’s an opportunity to turn a minor publicity idea into a total transformation of their public profile. Here are the five best reasons to go with Boaty:
You made your bed. You lie in it. If there’s one thing the British are known for, it’s fair play. You set up the rules of the game, you can’t just decide the rules don’t count when you don’t get the result that you wanted.
The name itself is not offensive. Blessed with a genuine sense of what’s funny, the British have delivered something ludicrous, but not unworkable. While the more sardonic American wit might have delivered the USS Sarah Palin, or the USS Pointless, the Brits have given you half a chance.
You’re unpopular enough. You’re already bureaucrat boffins spending tax money from a struggling people on investigating the effects of coconut water on penguins, you could barely make yourselves less popular if you went on safari and shot a lion. In tough times, the public could use a laugh, give it to them. Don’t take it away.
There’s no 0-0 draw available for you at this point. It’s either a wonderful PR result or a total disaster. You can’t go down the middle, so go for the win.
This will raise the profile of your efforts by a factor of 10,000. Not only did I have no interest in the NERC until this year, I had never heard of you. If you’d just called the thing the RSS Victoria, I would still never have heard of you. I would never have a clue what you were trying to accomplish, which is almost certainly not the thing with the penguins. If you call this ship Boaty McBoatface, every trip it goes on will be in the news for the next year. You are guaranteed coverage that you would never have had before. And while it comes with humor attached, it is harmless humor and any serious point you have to make will be heard loud and clear. You’ll be the final story on the news, but that’s better than not being there at all.
Please, please take the fabulous gift you have been given and call the vessel Boaty McBoatface for one year. A year from now, when the joke’s worn off anyway, call it the RSS Winston Churchill like you were always going to and move on. In the meantime, release a statement where you raise your hands to the ingenuity of the public, take the hit in good grace and become everybody’s favorite Research Council. You can even ask for donations to help fund Boaty, the public will be there for you.
This is good luck dressed as bad luck. It’s your decision what you do with that luck, but whichever way you go, the people will not forget.