Failed Crowdsourcing Campaigns

An increasing number of companies rope in their Facebook fans for advertizing campaigns or product development and put the names or designs to the vote on the Internet. In doing so, they outsource processes that were previously performed within the company or by advertizing agencies before the introduction of digital media onto the net. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter provide the necessary attention and promotional effectiveness on the web. These campaigns are not always successful. The washing powder manufacturer Henkel supplied an example of an unsuccessful crowdsourcing campaign in 2011.

crowdsourcing campaigns

Prime Examples

Henkel Slogan

Henkel created a new design for the dishwasher liquid “Pril” and asked Internet users to enter their slogan suggestions. They received 50,000 designs through the web campaign. However, the brand manufacturer was not satisfied with any of them. When some of the controversial suggestions, for example, the slogan “tastes as good as roast chicken”, were among the front-runners, Henkel suddenly changed the rules of the design contest. This can be regarded as a prime example of a failed crowdsourcing project. Henkel named a jury to choose the winning design. As a result, the designs the online community favored fell through. The reactions of the users were accordingly indignant about it. They started a campaign against the brand manufacturer on the company’s fanpage.

Frito-Lay Flavor

Another example is the chip maker Frito-Lay. After having previously successful campaigns where the public choose a new flavor they held another and the winner was cappuchino flavor! Of course, they tasted awful and many customers blew up their social media asking why they’d do such a thing. Frito-Lay remained unfussed by it simply saying that it made the finals because lots of people liked the idea.

BC Ferries Name Contest

British Columbia Company BC Ferries had three new ships ready to launch so they decided to invite the public to suggest names. Whilst this sounds innocent enough the company didn’t take into account that many members of the public were angry at them. They had previously cut senior discounts, made services smaller and harder to access, and were in the process of significantly raising their prices. This led to suggestions of “ShouldHaveBeenABridge”, “Incompetence Afloat” and “Spirit of the WalletSucker”. The CEO sheepishly ignored the suggestions and went with other ideas saying it promoted them either way. Whilst it may have promoted them, it was for all the wrong reasons.

Durex SoS

2013 saw Durex come up with an idea called Durex SoS where they would rush deliver condoms to those wanting them quickly. They asked the public to vote on which city in the world would be the first to be able to use this service. Unfortunately, trolls took over and voted predominantly for the city of Batman in Turkey due to its unusual name shared with the superhero. This was very embarrassing for Durex especially as Batman is a small, conservative, Muslim country that would have little demand for their new service. Durex promptly pulled the campaign.

NASA and Stephen Colbert

To get more people interested in space exploration NASA held a contest to name the new Node 3 room on the International Space Station (ISS). They screened for any offensive names and offered up a list of suggestions. However, popular US TV show host Stephen Colbert encouraged his huge fanbase to vote for “Colbert”. Whilst this name got 230,000 votes NASA went with their top suggestion of Serenity at 210,000 votes. They did however name a treadmill on the ISS after him. Not a strict fail but it certainly didn’t go as they intended.

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How to Avoid Crowdsourcing Failures

Set Boundaries

It’s best not to leave the suggestions totally open ended. As seen with Henkel and Durex this led to ridiculous suggestions. If they had given the public a list of slogans or cities to choose from then disaster could have been avoided. Trolls wouldn’t have been able to overwhelm a campaign as any of the pre-vetted choices would be suitable.

Monitor Suggestions

This is especially important when suggestions are compiled on the company’s website or social media such as in the case of BC Ferries. Seeing those names that disparaged the company opened up discussion about the negative aspects of the company making them look bad. It’s best to check suggestions before they even see the light of day and remove those that may be seen to be damaging, offensive or in the Frito-Lay case plain ridiculous.

What to do if a Crowdsouring Campaign is Failing

Turn it to Your Advantage

In the case of NASA’s campaign, they could have gotten angry over the suggestion of Colbert or even embarrassed themselves by going with it. However, they turned it around and took it in good humor. Their fallback of preset names gave them a get out clause too. The compromise of naming the treadmill after Colbert not only appeased the public but also made for a great joke. The joke was that C.O.L.B.E.R.T stood for Combined Operational Load Bearing Exercise Resistance Treadmill. Being creative and funny won the day for NASA.

Add New Rules

This is only best done early on in a campaign, if it’s done too late it will cause a backlash and trust may be broken. If a campaign is getting out of hand within a few hours then reset and add rules. Openly explain why and move on swiftly focusing on moving forward and choosing a winner.

Know When to Quit

Sometimes it’s just best to call it a day when something isn’t working out. Durex was smart enough to do this when their campaign went awry. Some companies like BC Ferries and Henkel thought it a good idea to just push through. However, this was to the detriment of their reputation and likely lost them customers in the long run. Whilst it’s not popular to stop a campaign part way through it’s better to do that than have to handle a PR disaster.