Crowdsourcing is a growing trend in the research industry, garnering praise for facilitating true collaboration and for engaging fans and consumers by letting their voices be heard – unfiltered. And while crowdsourcing has worked for Ben & Jerry’s, vitaminwater and Jones Soda, it’s also been a colossal failure for others (I’m thinking Kraft’s vegemite offering, iSnack 2.0).
However, all past foibles in crowdsourcing seem to pale in comparison to the epic failure of Mountain Dew’s “Dub the Dew” contest, which invited fans to suggest names that other fans could vote on for a new green apple-flavored soft drink. Unfortunately, Mountain Dew learned the hard way to be careful what you wish for.
According to James Lileks’ August 13th blog for the Star Tribune, which features screencaps of the contest, the site said: There’s a NEW Dew! It’s mean, green … and you can name it. The flavor facts: Classic Mtn Dew with green apple attitude. Think you have a winning name for this brand new Dew? Put it up for a vote!
Instead of creative, appealing, genuine suggestions from adoring Dew drinkers, a group of Internet pranksters (trolls) decided to have a little fun and dominate (rickroll) the contest with offensive and downright disgusting Dew names. The joke of a contest allegedly went viral on forum sites Reddit and 4chan, propelling names like “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong,” “Diabeetus” and “Gushing Granny” to the top.
The site and the contest have since been shut down.
This could be a manifestation of groupthink and the immorality of groups compared to individuals … or it could just be a tasteless joke (a really, really tasteless joke). If one project could go so horribly wrong and be so easily manipulated (rickrolled) by online subversives (trolls) that it needed to be canceled entirely, it raises the question if crowdsourcing simply gives too much control to the consumer – or rather, puts too much faith in the consumer. Charged with what could have been a fun task, can fans appreciate it? Can they take it seriously?
I also wonder how much of this had to do with the contest being for Mountain Dew. Somehow, this crowdsourcing snafu would seem more surprising to me had it been for, say, A&W Root Beer or Snapple, as Mountain Dew fans are famously marketed to as an adventure-seeking, extreme-sports-loving, rowdy cohort.
What sort of safeguards can marketers and researchers put into place to avoid situations like this? Is it still safe to give fans the floor?