If there’s one thing that gets Facebook and Twitter going it’s a good old fashioned naming competition.

This month alone there have been naming competitions for P&O’s new ocean liner, Dedworth’s new park and a newborn killer whale in Iceland.

Now Oldham Council has invited the public to submit names for a new road gritter – yielding such excellent suggestions as Gritney Spears, Usain Salt and Gritter Garbo.

It may seem like a publicity stunt or like people are making fun of the process by coming up with the silliest possible names.

But in terms of PR strategy, this isn’t just fun and games – it’s brand participation at its best.

Why does brand participation like this work?

For a start, it’s two-way communication. This kind of activity is shareable and engaging, and by inviting participation it actually opens up a dialogue between brands and customers. This gives an organisation like Oldham Council an opportunity to get across important messages about road safety in the winter months.

It’s low-cost. These brands already have their assets – whether that’s an ocean liner, a gritter or anything else – and it takes little resource to launch a whole campaign.

It’s perfect for social. Facebook and Twitter are the homes of witty banter, ironic put-downs and memes – and a competition which invites people to indulge their creativity and flex their muscles actually builds trust.

It’s tangible. At the end there’s something to show which the brand and public have created together – usually a vehicle bearing its crowdsourced nametag.

It shows trust. Brands have to be willing to embrace the public’s response, which takes guts. Obviously the approach has its risks, as the Natural Environment Research Council found out when the public voted for its new polar research ship to be called Boaty McBoatface.

Brand participation can come in very sophisticated forms, but it’s just as valid for this kind of PR to be fun and frivolous.

In this sense, naming competitions are the guilty pleasure of brand participation.

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