Yes, it’s once again time for fools to rush in. Every April Fools’ Day, some brands decide to break from their mold to execute a content “joke.” (Few do it well.)
Unfortunately, foolish content knows no time of year. So instead of focusing April Fool’s content, I decided to look at brand content from the rest of the year to see who’s foolin’ around (and who isn’t).
I found examples in three categories – entertaining, celebratory, and culturally informative content. Let’s explore them.
Entertaining videos from a service provider
The growing popularity of video content prompts companies to get their creative juices flowing. While educational and informational content may be most relevant to their businesses, many try to attract attention by making their videos entertaining, too.
Brand 1: Radiant Plumbing and Air Conditioning
This Austin, Texas-based company started creating window displays with plumbing-related plays on movie titles (Harry Potter and the Deathly Bowels) and television shows (Game of Thrones) about four years ago.
“I just would change the toilet display every few weeks, and movies were just a fun thing to play off,” co-founder Brad Casebier recently told a local television station.
Then, they took that creativity to video, producing spoofs on The Terminator (The Toiletnator) and Napoleon Dynamite. All the actors are Radiant employees, and a small team produces, films, and edits the videos. Its YouTube channel now hosts 282 videos and has 2,600 subscribers.
Is it foolish content? No. It’s smart and creative to stand out among a sea of sameness and remain top of mind when people need a plumber in the Austin area.
It’s also attracted national attention as John Oliver discussed the company’s content for six minutes on Last Week With John Oliver and challenged Radiant to make an ad using a movie inspiration he chose. The talk show host promised a $10,000 donation to Central Texas Food Bank and Radiant took the challenge. (Read more of the story here.)
However, one thing is a little foolish. Its YouTube about page doesn’t include a phone number for people in central Texas who need a plumber right away.
Brand 2: Roto-Rooter
Roto-Rooter, a brand with a national audience and name recognition, hosts many videos about all things plumbing related. Like other service companies, it creates many how-to and informational videos. So I got excited to explore its “entertainment” category. But my enthusiasm waned when I watched a few of the videos in that section.
For example, in a series about Thanksgiving-related clogs, Roto-Rooter used Pilgrim figurines to act out a Titanic-inspired scene in a kitchen sink that wouldn’t drain.
On the same “entertainment” page, a video shows a family Thanksgiving experience, including scenes of family members arriving, vegetables being chopped, and toilets flushing. They’re followed by a voiceover on straightforward tips to thwart clogs over the holidays.
Is it foolish content? Yes, for multiple reasons. First, the “Titanic” video feels disconnected from the rest of the content. It seems like someone on the team wanted to do something unusual and filmed the scene in their kitchen sink.
The video description doesn’t even match the visuals. It’s staid and boring and could have been written for any of the Thanksgiving videos:
This holiday season, Roto-Rooter asks all those thankful for their kitchen sinks and garbage disposals to avoid the turkey-day drama by keeping drains clear of skins, oils, and peelings from their Thanksgiving feast. The day after Thanksgiving is Roto-Rooter’s busiest day of the year, unclogging thousands of drains and garbage disposals of dinner prep and clean-up from the festive night before. Be thankful for Thanksgiving leftovers – even the ones you need to throw away – by keeping them out of sink drains.
Even more questionable was Roto-Rooter’s decision to include a cartoonish Native American figurine with the long-out-of-place wide smile and full headdress in a video about a national holiday that many Native Americans view as a day of mourning.@RotoRooter’s Thanksgiving videos are #FoolishContent because they’re boring and the descriptors don’t match the visuals, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet
I won’t trust Roto-Rooter to provide entertaining content in the future (and it likely will fall off my radar of prospective plumbers.)
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Celebratory content for International Women’s Day
Brands often marry their content marketing with days and months designated to celebrate people and things. International Women’s Day on March 8 is one of those days. It’s designed as a “global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women” and a call to action to fight for equality and parity.
Brand 1: CVS
Around International Women’s Day (March 8), retail pharmacy brand CVS changed its website. As the image below shows, the home page of the CVS website featured a picture of younger women on the street throwing confetti. Alongside the image sits its call to action: Celebrate International Women’s Day with CVS. The options given for “celebrating” include:
- Schedule a women’s health exam
- Refill prescriptions,
- COVID-19 booster, testing, treatment & records
Is it foolish content? Yes. Handling health needs isn’t a great way to celebrate the accomplishments of women – or anyone for that matter. And the image fits the celebratory message, but doesn’t relate at all the health-focused messaging.
CVS did what a lot of brands do with celebratory and recognition days or months – they see the general topic and find a way to shoehorn what they already need to promote or message into that theme. That’s a surefire way to turn off the target audience, who now realize your brand doesn’t care enough about the topic to invest your time creating original, relevant content.Instead of celebrating women, @CVSPharmacy celebrates Women’s History Month with reminders for women to schedule and exam or refill a prescription, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #FoolishContent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet
Brand 2: Johnson & Johnson
The global health-care brand Johnson & Johnson used International Women’s Day to tell how women have made an impact in the company since its 1886 founding with an article and infographic.
It speaks to its history – 14 founding employees were women – and its present – 54% of new hires in 2021 were women and 48% of management positions are held by women. It looks to the future by speaking to the next generation through its Scholars Award Program to encourage women in the science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing, and design fields. It also speaks globally on how it’s helping women’s health and championing women in the workforce.
Is it foolish content? No. Johnson & Johnson understood the purpose of International Women’s Day and created content that fits the celebratory and activist messaging. Interestingly, the page says it was updated in March 2023, indicating it had been published previously. That’s another smart move – you don’t always need to craft original content or fool your audience into thinking the content is new.
The headline (9 Ways Johnson & Johnson Has Supported Women Since 1896) seems a little foolish. Why not turn it around to put the focus on the women not the company? Here’s a suggestion: 9 Ways Women Have Shaped Johnson & Johnson Since 1896.
Content marketing to attract employees
Charged with marketing the company to potential employees, the career sections of brand websites serve multiple purposes. More than a home for job listings, the career section should tell the story of the employee experience – to help prospective candidates understand better if the company will be a good fit for them.
Brand 1: GE
GE knows what visitors to its career section want – a job. That’s why they start with a search tool and the heading “Find the jobs that match your strengths.”
From there, they feature a diverse range of stories about their employees, tackling topics like the impact of their work, what led them to their careers, acceptance and awareness, and much more.
Then they tell the story of what life is like at GE from multiple perspectives – working at GE, students, inclusion and diversity, and benefits.
Is it foolish content? Not at all. GE hosts a well-designed, cohesive site that helps prospective candidates understand the culture, co-workers, the bigger picture, and what they might get from working with the global brand.
Brand 2: Caterpillar
In its production careers section, Caterpillar emphasizes “Manufacturing & Production” by making it the largest header, followed by these two paragraphs:
Manufacturing is at the heart of our company. For more than 90 years, Caterpillar has been providing innovative customer solutions – from the track-type tractor that gave us our Caterpillar name, to the diesel engine, the elevated sprocket, the hybrid excavator and more. Without our worldwide manufacturing employees, none of this would be possible. They touch everything we make that digs, powers, builds, crushes, cuts and operates. Quite simply, it’s every product we sell, every service we provide and everything in between.
A chance to make quality products that matter.
An image header above the primary text reads in smaller print, “Do Work That Matters,” with the subhead, “Here Your Work Impacts the World.”
The page also includes a thumbnail to a video that tells an employee’s story. As visitors scroll down, they see a couple of production-focused articles from 2021, followed by an infographic celebrating manufacturing. At the end, employee images are used with their first name and a quote about their work at Caterpillar.
Is it foolish content? Yes, in the design and generic words. The first sentences speak to the company’s lengthy history and its more remarkable products. Those words would work on almost any other general Caterpillar page – they don’t speak to the experience of working for the company.
Then, the text connects to careers with a platitude: “Without our employees, none of this would be possible.” That throwaway line wouldn’t make a prospective employee feel that the company truly cares about them. After all, every company, regardless of the industry, could say the same.
Plus, the page design emphasizes the category (manufacturing and production) more than the mission (do work that matters), communicating once again that the mission is less important.
Using employees in career section content is a good move, but the videos seem like an afterthought, and the quotes are generic. Mary says, “I love what I do and the people I work with.” Then there’s this line: “Shaun motivates those around him with his dedicated commitment to the company and his unyielding focus on excellence.” That isn’t even a quote – it’s just a statement about Shaun.@CaterpillarInc’s manufacturing & production careers page uses a generic design and words about the company that could work on any page, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #FoolishContent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet
Stop the foolin’
April Fools’ content will fill your feeds over the next few days. Use it as a reminder to revisit your own content. Is any of it foolish? By that, I mean:
- Does the content deliver on the promise? Are you really entertaining the audience or just saying they should be entertained?
- Does the content fit the context? Are you creating content relevant to the occasion or fitting the occasion into your existing content?
- Does the content collectively serve the mission? Are you creating all the content elements by keeping the intended audience – and their purpose – in mind?
Let us know what you find in your foolish content in your analysis – or if you see others joking around, please share that.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute