Mister Splashy Pants: Losing Control of the Message

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Originally published on the TechSoup Blog.

Are you ready to start using social media in your organization? It's a more complicated question than you might think: adopting new media necessarily means giving up a certain degree of control over your message, and there's a host of reasons not to loosen the reins. On the other hand, losing that control can bring your message to exponentially more people than were previously possible. Consider the story of Mister Splashy Pants (via):

Left to their own devices, Greenpeace wouldn't have chosen that name. Maybe no environmental group would have chosen it: when Greenpeace extended the poll an extra week, Treehugger issued a plea to give the whale "a decent name." But the result was that the campaign got much more press than it otherwise would have, and was ultimately successful: the Japanese government called off its whaling expedition.

It comes back to a point we've discussed several times on this blog: we're often very different people from our supporters. The most successful marketing campaign might not be our favorite. To anyone not entrenched in environmental advocacy, it's obvious that Mister Splashy Pants is a more eye-catching name than Libertad. (Incidentally, when it comes to creating a message that appeals more to an organization's staff than its donors, churches and religious organizations are among the worst offenders. Does your grunge website actually appeal to the young visitors it's supposed to reach, or just to people who went to school with you in the early 1990s?)

The big caveat is that "letting go" isn't an end in itself: it's a tool to use in achieving your organization's mission. The reason why Greenpeace started the whale campaign wasn't to sell funny T-shirts: it was to draw attention to abuses by the Japanese Fisheries Agency. Brian Fitzgerald, head of digital communications at Greenpeace, admits that the name was controversial among staff, but says he also recognized Mister Splashy Pants' potential as a mouthpiece for serious issues: "We ... 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."