Crowdsourcing names sounds appealing: companies can get responses very quickly and cheaply. “Namesourcing” has become so popular it has sprouted a bevy of businesses dedicated to the practice. Beneath the appeal of namesourcing’s quick, cheap turnaround (with a dash of consumer engagement) lies its biggest limitation for brands—the wisdom of the crowd doesn’t extend to deep category and business expertise.
There’s no lack of success stories around crowdsourced innovation and technology. When AB-InBev wanted to develop a brand more attuned to craft beer tastes, it turned to the crowd. The result? Black Crown. And brands like Lego, General Mills and MWV have devoted entire platforms to crowdsourcing initiatives. But crowdsourcing for names can be tricky—or even foolhardy. Imagine if you let the internet name your firstborn. The results might be disappointing, to say the least.
Crowds are, by definition, loose and disparate. When a brand puts the crowd at the controls for naming, it won’t necessarily get back names that reflect the brand’s positioning or tone of voice. For the crowd, quality and consistency are not always priorities. Aussie web designer Dean Robbins was actually kidding when he suggested iSnack 2.0 as a new moniker for Kraft’s Vegemite—yet the name he coined won. And when Mountain Dew asked consumers to “Dub the Dew” for its apple-flavored offering in 2012, hackers eagerly nominated names like Diabeetus and Gushing Granny.
Crowdsourcing has the most value as an engagement tool that invites customers to start conversations, share ideas, and feel like they’re being listened to and appreciated. To do that right, a thoughtful plan should trump result. Crowdsourced names might make a temporary splash on social media; some might even end up on a real shelf—but the truth is, companies rarely view or treat crowdsourced names as long-term investments. The stories and campaigns that sit behind them—the stories brands can tell about inviting participation—is where the heart beats.
Try to think of a crowdsourced name that isn’t on your radar because it was attached to an #epicfail. iSnack 2.0 is the granddaddy of them all, but it’s five years old. And the Gushing Granny disaster is 21 in dog years. But chances are, you’ve engaged with at least one campaign on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed in recent memory. There’s Lay’s Do Us a Flavor, Dunkin’ Donuts Next Donut, Sam Adams’ LongShot American Homebrew, and Mountain Dew’s DEWmocracy. What do these have in common (and why have some of them even thrived as global annual campaigns)? They’re inviting you to engage.
So, go ahead—name a chip Benedict Cumberbatch, and crack a smile the next time you see a Lay’s bag at the deli.
Paula Pou is Associate Director, Verbal Identity, Interbrand New York.