Ok, we all thought it was a funny name: when we launched our name-a-whale competition, we had over 11,000 entries that we split up among our Communications Team members to select five each to go forward as finalists. We had poetry, we had mythology, we had emotional, we had funny: and we had Mister Splashy Pants.
We’ve done online naming competitions before; our ship, Esperanza, was named in just such a contest. So we knew one of the first rules of internet naming competitions: gather suggestions from everywhere, then appoint a panel to go through the names, narrow it down to a set of finalists, and then set the audience to vote on those. Key to this is making sure that you can live with any of the names on your final list, otherwise you court disasters like the Steven Colbert Bridge in Hungary.
I got the block of 2000 names which included Mister SP, which was like getting the whistle in a box of Cracker Jack instead of one of those lame temporary tattoos. All my spreadsheet said was that it had been submitted by Omar of the UK.
Now, did I immediately put the name in my top 5? I would like to say I did, but I didn’t. And what made me hesitate?
The self-censorship instinct. Not everyone liked this idea. It was cute, but what if it won? Was it nominated by somebody taking the piss out of us? Or was it a sincere 12 year old kid who thought his little diapered brother’s nickname would be perfect for a whale? I had feedback that it was an undignified name for a humpback.
Now there ARE folks in Greenpeace, dear reader, who are fine, life-affirming, humour filled folks around the office and in the pub. But when they face outward, they come close to that humourless, worthy, holier-than-thou stereotype we fall foul of so often. It’s as if being po-faced is a branding requirement. And I know from long experience that putting any element of humour into any output is asking for a broadside from the Mavens of Mirthlessness.
CNET described MSP (for so he is known in our acronym-obsessed corridors) as an “Oh, what the heck…” submission, and there may have been an element of that in our collective motives, but in the end I made the decision to put him forward on the basis of one of my lighthouses: externalize to the audience what amuses and inspires those of us within the walls and below the decks. And when faced with attempts at internal censorship, push back.
What we didn’t anticipate (honest!) was that the name would so fire the funny bones of internet pranksters, Greenpeace detractors, Greenpeace Supporters, and whale lovers alike that it would lead to that thing that every online organizer dreams of: a runaway viral campaign. Suddenly, our audience had grabbed our competition and turned it into something else: the Vote for Mister Splashy Pants campaign.
Our first glimmer was in the stats. We saw traffic double in one day to the voting page. Our referrals showed a big spike in traffic from Reddit in particular, which was driving 18% of our referral traffic. And there, lo and behold, was Vote for Mister Splashy Pants, third link from the top. Within 24 hours, Reddit would bestow upon MSP the ultimate honor of being its “What’s Hot” Icon upper left of the page.
On Web Apps responded to the call to vote for Mister Splashy Pants with a 13 Line Shell Script which (they thought) was voting for MSP 100s of times. Sorry, guys, we’re tree huggers, not dumbasses.
Ivan Krigin thought this was all very funny, and dropped a line to everyone’s favourite über-blog BoingBoing. BoingBoing editor (and former Greenpeace canvasser) Cory Doctorow picked it up. Sadly, sometimes we ARE dumbasses, and the page which BoingBoing linked to lacked an essential Google Analytics tag, thus rendering referrals and hits invisible to the Great Eye That Never Sleeps.
But at this point, we didn’t need stats to see things were getting out of hand. Blogs from Mazurland, Dhadm, Fark the Daily Galaxy, DreamerFi, Daily Mantra, Webware, World Wide Rant, Chroma, ob.blog (“This brought tears to my eyes, Thank You Greenpeace…”), Growabrain, Nothing to do with Arbroath, Human Under Construction (which wanted a recount for non-finalist ‘Sir Swimalot’), Thunderdragon, Hippyshopper, and many more were cranking up the Vote for Mister Splashy Pants campaign.
Greenpeace Webby Richard Hanson responded with a blog graphing the shell script click escapade, wisely beginning his first sentence with “Thanks to our friends at BoingBoing and Reddit…” which got us another bump on Redddit.
It was then I threw a search into Facebook and found the “Vote for Mister Splashy Pants” group, which had been created by none other than Omar of the UK — the original source of the suggestion. There were also several *copycat* Facebook groups as well.
I dropped an appreciative note into the group confirming Omar to be the idea’s originator, and he kindly made me an officer of the group: chuffed! Omar also created his own T-shirt and Gear design which you can buy at Cafepress.
We did our best to try to capitalize on this one — we put our best conversion content on the vote page, we got our own Mister Splashy Pants T-shirts and the gear out ASAP, we (and many in the blog community) pushed folks to make the link between naming Mister Splashy Pants and saving Mister Splashy Pants by taking online action to demand the UN create protected Marine Reserves and asking whale conservation countries to do more to save whales.
100,000 people have voted in our online contest. 73,000 of those votes were for Mister Splashy Pants. While the competition doesn’t close until 5pm Friday, I’d say that baring a major fluke (arr arr arr), MSP is a shoe-in.
And where to from here? Well, we can all make suggestions for lyrics and songs to go into “Mister Splashy Pants, the Musical” as BlogwayBabe suggests.
But seriously… we have a problem in that nobody knows where Mister Splashy Pants is. His tag has stopped transmitting, which means any of the humpback whales which the Japanese Fisheries Agency harpoons for science could, in fact, be Mister SP! The only way to be sure our hero isn’t harpooned? Stop all whaling in the Southern Ocean: create an Antarctic Marine Reserve now!