Yellow Tail asks the public to name new wine -- a move that could backfire

It's been mocked, praised, even called evil, and now Australian wine maker, Yellow Tail, is giving it a try. Crowdsourcing, or throwing out a task or problem usually handled by one person (typically an employee) to the public, has been bashed for exploiting workers and disrupting the competitive balance of certain industries.

Yellow Tail's request of the masses, however, seems innocent enough: come up with the winning name for its new, un-oaked Chardonnay.

"[Yellow Tail] wants you to name our new Chardonnay (if we are being honest, we want you to do our work for us)," the company's Web site says of the contest, which runs through December 9. Entries can also be submitted through the company's Facebook page and the winner will be picked by a panel of judges.
The prize is a free shipment of the wine. It's no Netflix Prize, the $1 million purse won in September by a seven-person team that won a crowdsourcing contest to come up with a way to improve Netflix's (NFLX) movie-recommendation program. But given that Yellow Tail is a value-conscious wine, a bigger prize might be out of the brand's character -- and a little risky.

Vegemite tries and fails; NASA names a treadmill?

Crowdsourcing is increasingly viewed by marketers as a way to involve consumers in new product launches and generate buzz. But there are also plenty of pitfalls associated with leaving pivotal tasks up to the public. Take the recent mess involving another iconic Australian product, Vegemite. Vegemite maker Kraft Foods's (KF) Australian division invited consumers to name a new variation that swirled cream cheese within Australia's beloved black yeast paste. After Kraft picked "iSnack 2.0" out of 48,000 entries, the normally easy going Aussie population responded with near universal condemnation. The Brisbane Times described the name as "every bit as hip as a polka convention and every bit as convincingly 'now' as parachute pants." In response to the backlash, Kraft agreed to rename the spread with the more descriptive Vegemite Cheesybite.

Vegemite isn't alone in discovering the pitfalls of crowdsourcing. NASA's campaign to name a room on the International Space Station was hijacked by a write-in effort orchestrated by comedian Stephen Colbert. In the end, NASA agreed to name a treadmill after the satirical talk-show host. General Motor's effort to get the public creating ads for its Chevy Tahoe backfired when environmentally-conscious consumers created commercials condemning the vehicle's poor fuel economy and linking it to global warming. And Molson shut down a Facebook campaign asking college students to post pictures of them partying after receiving complaints it encouraged excessive drinking.

Lily Volpe, who is director of new products and innovation for W.J. Deutsch & Sons, which imports and markets Yellow Tail wine in the U.S., says that Yellow Tail isn't concerned about the Chardonnay-naming contest backfiring. "We're open for anything and that's the brand's tag line," she says. "Vegemite is such a different product to start with for consumers. This is so straightforward and it's so fun that I think it's a different situation."

In a way, using crowdsourcing as a way to pick a new name while revving consumer interest is nothing new. Jingle contests were popular for decades. It was even the subject of one memoir,The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, about a woman who kept her 10 children fed with her jingle winnings.

Who knows? Yellow Tail might just come up with a winning name for the new wine, which it describes as having a lighter and crisper flavor than its traditional Chardonnay. Let's just hope they ignore any entry suggesting iWine 2.0.

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