It’s official. Boaty McBoatface has topped the polls in a public vote to name the new £200m artic explorer. However, after receiving almost 125,000 votes, it appears as if the Natural Environment Research Agency (NERC) and the government will pass on the publics choice for the name.
Listening to the Jo Johnson, Minister for Science & Technology, on Radio 4 yesterday, it seemed pretty much a foregone conclusion that they won’t be going with Boaty (not least because, in order to officially name a ship, they must request a warrant from the Queen). He all but said that there’s no chance that the future of research in the Artic will happen on the RRS Boaty McBoatface.
NERC had outlined from the beginning that the poll wouldn’t definitively decide what the ship would be called. Their motives behind the poll were primarily to get public engagement and raise awareness of the work they do. Without question, those goals have certainly been achieved.
However, the biggest opportunity still lies ahead of the in the form of… Boaty McBoatface.
The poll was a great idea. Thousands of people engaged with a branch of the government that many otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. But why have that be the end of it? If NERC go with Boaty McBoatface, they can retain some of that attention.
If Boaty McBoatface were on Twitter, I would follow it! Its Instagram account would be beautiful – Northern Lights from the Artic. And who wouldn’t want to follow Boaty’s Snapchat story?
Whether they like it or not, NERC have created a character here. Boaty already has a fan base, a personality and a lot of adoration. NERC need to ride that wave.
If they don’t go with Boaty, that’s it. The story ends. The general public will never again care about what comes from this £200m ship. Keep the character though and you keep the attention, and the interest.
Also, this ship will be around for 40-50 years. Our kids will grow up hearing about Boaty. And they will listen too. Because it sounds like a cartoon. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some keen animator is already working on a cartoon.
It might not sound very professional and we all know it’s a bit silly and immature. And not very “becoming” of a £200m ship. But it has captured the imagination and attention of thousands. And that, that attention – in a sector such as science which is so important and so commonly overlooked by the popular media outlets – is priceless.