By Ann Gynn published April 1, 2019

Is April Fools’ Day Worth the Risk for Brands?

Three hundred sixty-four days a year, brands work hard creating content to build and strengthen trust with their audiences.

But on a single day in April, many brands suspend those trust-building efforts and throw them out the window by publishing content deliberately meant to fool (or worse, make fools of) their audiences.

Yes, it’s time to usher in April’s annual day of pranking.

It’s a tempting conundrum for content marketers. To earn a reputation for quality content, you’re taught to avoid spammy clickbait headlines or sales pitches thinly disguised as content. But April 1 seemingly gives you a reason to break the rules – deceiving your audiences by crafting fake content, writing absurd headlines, and even promoting faux products.

Is celebrating April Fools’ Day a good idea for content marketers?

Probably not.

If your brand has never used humor or the element of surprise in its content, April 1 is not the time to start.

If your brand has never used humor in its #content, April 1 is not the time to start. @AnnGynn Click To Tweet

If your brand thinks of April Fools’ as a one-day joke, don’t do it.

If your brand isn’t prepared to devote significant resources to develop a thoughtful, well-executed campaign, don’t do it.

If your brand leaders can’t weather criticism, don’t do it.

If, after all those caveats, you think April Fools’ fits with your brand, read on for some inspiration. And if you recognize April 1 isn’t a day for your brand to celebrate, read on for some universal lessons to use all 365 days of the year.

Integrate into your brand

Burger King frequently uses humor in its content. “BK is hilarious on Twitter,” writes Lindsay Welgarz in The Most Genius Tweets from Burger King’s Twitter Account.

The company told USA Today earlier this year: “We like to playfully joke around with what the Internet and news outlets are saying, but never to be mean spirited.”

That approach to humor perhaps is why April 1 is permanently circled on its creative calendar. The brand historically launched “new” products on the day, including the Left-Handed Whopper (redesigned by moving condiments 180 degrees) and the Chocolate Whopper.

“April Fools’ has become a major date for Burger King and our campaigns have generated massive engagement with a younger, and often harder to reach, audience,” said Fernando Machado, Burger King global chief marketing officer, in the recent announcement.

While we don’t yet know what’s in store for this year’s prank, next year’s April 1 celebration may come from a student. Given that Burger King’s April 1 product releases attract a young audience, the brand strengthened that audience connection by partnering with the Clio Awards for the King’s Fools’ Challenge. The winner of the Clio’s 2019 Student Integrated Campaign category will become an honorary creative director at Burger King and will be tasked with bringing its caper for 2020 to life.

“We thought this would be a great way to challenge up-and-coming creatives to show us how they would cut through the noise and hijack popular culture with the ultimate prank,” Fernando said.

Lessons learned:

  • If humor is appropriate one day a year, it should be part of your brand voice throughout the year.
  • Think about how you can use a seemingly one-time encounter as a kickoff to a long-term relationship with your new audience.
If humor is appropriate one day a year, it should be part of your brand voice 365 days a year. @AnnGynn Click To Tweet

Create distinct but related content

While Burger King uses April 1 to launch “new” products, Rent the Runway used the day to launch a “new” service, which Patrick Burke, chief marketing officer at Grapevine, shared with us.

“The most believable April Fool’s jokes often come in the form of e-commerce landing pages for gag products,” said Patrick. “This approach is your best bet if your main goal is media mentions or links since it gives journalists a perfect place to send their readers.”

The most believable #AprilFool’s jokes are e-commerce landing pages for gag products. @Patrick_H_Burke Click To Tweet

As he explains, more than 54 sites, including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Time picked up the Rent the Runway for Dogs news in 2018. And the prank continues today as the landing page remains – and you can still sign up to express interest in renting dog clothes.

Lessons learned:

  • Use your content to garner media attention. If your content is fresh, unique, and valuable, media and other sites are more likely to talk about it.
  • Use April 1 as a time to test audience response to products or service that seem outlandish.
  • Use a separate landing page for your content – don’t mix fact and fiction on the same page.

Don’t disrupt function

PR expert Karen Jayne Blattenbauer reminds us of a foolish Google fail from a few years ago. On April 1, 2016, Google added a new feature to Gmail – an orange button next to the standard “send” button. A click on that orange button led to the delivery of the email with a GIF of a little yellow Minion character dropping a microphone. And the fun didn’t stop there. The mic drop ended the conversation, preventing the sender from seeing subsequent replies.

As this Fortune article details, the mic drop prank caused consumers to bombard Google’s product forums and social media pages with complaints. Ultimately, Google’s Crystal Cee wrote in a forum thread, “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year. Due to a bug, the Mic Drop feature inadvertently caused more headaches than laughs. We’re truly sorry.”

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t develop a promotion that disrupts your audience’s use of your products or services.
  • Vet your idea with multiple stakeholders. A creative team member may think an idea is great, while the customer may not. Talk to people in non-creative departments to see what they think.
Don’t develop a promotion that disrupts your audience’s use of your products or services. @AnnGynn #AprilFools Click To Tweet

Harness the appeal of an immediate reveal

Liam Carnahan, director of content at Croud, and founder and chief editor at Invisible Ink Editing, says NPR’s best April Fools’ joke came in 2014, when it promoted an article, “Why Don’t Americans Read Anymore?

Those who took the time to click on it were greeted by this:

The link promotion was a fun test to see if the curious in NPR’s audience really read the article or if they simply reshared the link. (Perhaps all content marketers should try this one any time of the year.)

Lessons learned:

  • Make the content relevant and satisfy the audience’s curiosity quickly.
  • Invite your audience inside your humorous content efforts and enlist their help in spreading the fun on social media.

Think again

But wait, there’s more. In a recent Biznology article, Consultants Collective’s Douglas Spencer shared some great questions to ask before your brand considers engaging in any content-related acts of April foolery:

  • How will competitors react? Are they a hungry dog just waiting for you to hold out a juicy bone in the form of self-mockery?
  • The media? You’ll most likely get some sort of a pass since it is April Fool’s Day after all, but don’t assume you’ll get a get-out-of-jail-free card – especially if you’re a publicly traded company and you joke about solvency.
  • Employees? If you’ve been light on raises in the last couple of years, best not to drop a ton of money on a slick April Fool’s ad unless you can prove it’s good for your bottom line.

Is your brand celebrating April Fools’ Day? Have you seen some wins and fails today? Please share in the comments.

Have fun without any pranks at Content Marketing World this September. Register today using code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Ann Gynn

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