Can the Brits save face after torpedoing “Boaty McBoatface”?

by | Apr 28, 2016 | Politics and Government - UK, Public Relations, Social Media

The Internet has spoken, and “Boaty McBoatface” won the Natural Environment Research Council’s naming poll by an overwhelming margin. So bring on those children’s storybooks featuring an anthropomorphized arctic exploration vessel, the school science teaching aids, and the Happy Meal toys.

Well, not so fast.

Claiming the title “Biggest Killjoy of 2016,” Britain’s minister of Science, Jo Johnson, said that the name “Boaty McBoatface” was “not suitable” for the $300 million ship under construction. With that comment, he effectively torpedoed the popular choice, which earned more than triple the votes of its nearest competitor, the Poppi-Mai, named for a little British girl diagnosed recently with an incurable form of cancer.

One can almost see him coming to the podium in his ascot and top hat and hear him completing the sentence “…for such an austere, important vessel that will double as my legacy in my role as Science Minister.”

In actuality, Johnson said:

“The new royal research ship will be sailing into the world’s iciest waters to address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people.  That’s why we want a name that lasts longer than a social media news cycle.”


If you’re unfamiliar, Boaty McBoatface was offered up by a former British journalist as a joke and was soon disavowed by its creator, before taking on a life of its own, as, you know, sometimes happens on the Internet. I wrote here last month that you do so at your own risk if you ignore the will of the people.

It seems the British fondness for austerity far outweighs its sense of marketing.

This is a public relations blunder, plain and simple. You have missed an opportunity to engage a new generation of young people in the field in which you’ve endeavored throughout your career, Mr. Killjoy…um, Mr. Johnson. Your little red, white and green ship will break through ice floes in anonymity as you desire, its important findings relegated to peer-reviewed natural sciences journals that are as far from your supporters, potential benefactors and future crew members as a textbook is from a walrus.

You had an opportunity to be on everyone’s lips not just for a “social media news cycle,” but for decades as the flagship for science in the U.K. If you played your ice shards right, you could have heralded the christening of the R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface with a Disney film.

But you put the kibosh on all that, angering or at least disappointing 124,000 voters, teachers throughout the kingdom, and millions worldwide who had embraced a fanciful name for an otherwise generic vessel.  You have faithfully lived up to the stereotype of the U.K. as a stuffy nation steeped in anachronistic tradition. Forget Disney. Now, the best you can hope for is a documentary on Nova.

Sail safely in obscurity, R.R.S. Poppi-Mai or whatever they choose to call you.

The Top 10 Vote-Getters:

  1. RRS Boaty McBoatface, 124,109 votes
  2. RRS Poppy-Mai, 39,886 votes
  3. RRS Henry Worsley,  15,774 votes
  4. RRS David Attenborough, 11,023 votes
  5. RRS ITS BLOODY COLD HERE, 10,679 votes
  6. RRS Usain Boat, 8,710 votes
  7. RRS Boatimus Prime, 8,365 votes
  8. RRS Katharine Giles, 7,687 votes
  9. RRS Catalina de Aragon, 7,055 votes
  10. RRS I Like Big Boats & I Cannot Lie, 6,452 votes

Guest contributor Gary Frisch is founder and president of Swordfish Communications, a full-service public relations agency in Laurel Springs, N.J. He was selected as a Linkedin Top Voice for 2015. Read the original article as it appears on BulldogReporter.com.

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Gary Frisch
Gary Frisch is founder and president of Swordfish Communications, a full-service public relations agency in Laurel Springs, N.J. He is also the author of “Strike Four,” a novel about minor league baseball. Visit Swordfish online atwww.swordfishcomm.com.


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