Feedback is great, but never let your customers name the product.
Kraft Foods Australia recently came up with what they thought was a brilliant PR strategy for the launch of a new product: they began selling their new cream cheese and Vegemite spread with ‘Name Me’ on the label, encouraging customers to submit their own suggestions for the spread’s eventual name.
The result was a complete disaster that made fun of the very idea of the contest: iSnack 2.0. (See our slideshow for more)
But while ‘crowdsourcing’ may be a buzz word, there is nothing new about companies putting important business decisions to a vote, and the results are almost always disastrous. Crowdsourcing is great for generating ideas — we polled a small network for suggestions for this slide show — but when it’s your money on the line, true democracy is a bad idea.
Here are some of our favourite crowdsourcing failures.
That's right, the Vegemite/cream cheese blend was named iSnack 2.0. This is very real, but that doesn't mean it's not a joke. Kraft, however, chooses to remain on the outside. Head of corporate affairs Simon Talbot said of the name: 'Vegemite iSnack2.0 was chosen based on its personal call to action, relevance to snacking and clear identification of a new and different Vegemite to the original.'
The New York Mets decided to let their fans choose a new anthem for the eighth inning of home games. A bad idea at the best of times, this was a terrible idea at the height of the Rickrolling craze. Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up demolished the competition with over 5 million votes. The song was played once, during the home opener, when it was resoundingly booed.
When Time Magazine decided to let its most influential person of the year award be decided by an online vote, they were practically begging to be the target of Internet practical jokers. So perhaps it should be no surprise that the winner was Christopher 'moot' Poole, founder of 4Chan, the Mecca of online pranksters. Still, it wasn't as bad as their decision to make 'You' Person of the Year, and they made that decision all by themselves.
When NASA decided to let a popular vote name a new section of the International Space Station, they at least had the sense to start with a pool of their own suggestions. Unfortunately, they decided to include the option to write-in an alternative. Someone told Stephen Colbert. Stephen Colbert told his legion of devoted fans. The next thing NASA knew, Colbert had six times more votes than any of the options they had provided. NASA was not amused, declining to honour the contest winner.
Our new President is a big fan of things that happen from the bottom up, rather than the top down. His early experiment in crowdsourcing press conference questions didn't work out, however, after his website's 'Open For Questions' forums were hijacked by marijuana legalization enthusiasts. It's an important issue, of course, but it was nevertheless a surprise to see it come up in the top few questions on the subjects of jobs, health care reform, and energy policy.
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