Day 51: The story of Mr Splashy Pants

Alexis Ohanian co-founder of Reddit gives a brief 3 minute Ted talk on how to make a splash in social media and uses a case study involving Greenpeace to get his point across.  Greenpeace was trying to stop the Japanese government on their whaling campaign. One of the ways they were trying to do this was by putting a tracking chip in a humpback whale. Greenpeace decided to name the whale as  a way to brand this movement and raise awareness of the plights of humpback whales.

What do you call a humpback whale?

So what on Earth does someone call a humpback whale? Greenpeace turned to social media for inspiration and created a poll with some possible names  of ancient gods of the sea as Anahi, Kaimana. There was also another name which I am sure they didn’t bet on anyone voting for Mister Splashy Pants.

Turns out someone at Reddit thought that it was a pretty good name and voted it up on the Reddit website. So did a whole bunch of Redditors and the website logo for Redit was changed to a whale for a day. Soon other websites were getting behind the name Mr Splashy Pants such as Tark, Boing, Boing. A clear message was being sent - people wanted the name Mr Splashy Pants

Turns out Greenpeace weren’t too impressed with the name after all. They had hoped on of the more thoughtful names winning.  They extended the poll for another week hoping the people of the internet would have a change of heart. They didn’t.  Reddit changed the logo once more to a “Fightin’ Splashy” Facebook groups and applications were being launched.

Fightin' Mister Splashy logo designed by Alexia Ohanian

Fightin’ Mister Splashy logo designed by Alexia Ohanian

People weren’t going to budge.  At the end of the poll 78% of votes were still supporting the name of Mister Splashy Pants.  Second place, Humphrey, only scored 3% of the votes. Greenpeace accepted defeat and went as far to now sell Mr Splashy Pants merchandise.   Not loosing sight of the bigger picture Greenpeaces had succeed  in the Japanese government calling off their whaling expedition. (note: that was several years ago I am not sure if that is still the case)

What lessons can be learned from Alexis Ohanian’s ted Talk “ How to make a splash in social media”

Alexis says that the biggest lesson to learn from all this, and that Greenpeace took on board,  is that sometimes you need to let go of control. It’s okay to not take yourself so seriously all of the time.

 Listen to your public

Content creators need to listen to what people actually want rather than what they “think” people want. Greenpeace had this forming tribe wanting to get behind their cause and alienating them by telling them their choice was wrong was not a good approach.  Many of the voters probably weren’t that interesting in humpback whales to begin with but after the Greenpeace poll more supporters were created.

Think outside the box. Don’t play it safe.

Would Greenpeace have had as much public support if they had name the whale Harrison – probably not. It’s a regular name and doesn’t create much of a  splash (pun intended.) By thinking outside the book, albeit reluctantly, the concept caught on. It became contagious and that’s how the internet works. If we want to stand out we need to play to its strengths and not against.

What do you think? Did Greenpeace make the right choice by jumping on the Mister Splashy Pants bandwagon? Would you have voted for it?


Vanessa Rose