A guide to mastering April Fool’s content

It may not be Christmas or Black Friday, but April Fool’s is a holiday not to be ignored – at least from a content perspective. The international day of the prankster is a prime opportunity, in fact, for you to make room for creativity in your business-as-usual content production, and when done properly, the knock-on effects for your brand can be far-reaching.

There are only a few more weeks until the holiday hits us like a boxing glove on a spring, but it’s not too late to think of a way to pull a fast-one on your readers. If you want to take advantage of April 1, 2019, here’s a guide to inspire your inner jokester.

Is an April Fool’s content campaign right for your brand?

First things first, you need to decide if an April Fool’s content piece is actually a wise move for your brand and audience. This will largely be a personal call to make, but before you rule it out as too risky, consider that some very unexpected brands (like, say, a funeral home) have pulled it off with success.

If you are considering doing something clever for April Fool’s, ask yourself a few questions about how viable an option it is:

  • Do you have the bandwidth to create and implement a campaign in time?
  • Will a joke or prank resonate with your audience?
  • Could a joke or prank somehow backfire with your audience?
  • What will an April Fool’s campaign actually achieve for your brand?

That last question is a tricky one, because it’s highly unlikely that your campaign will convert new customers or move products off shelves. If you want to put the time and effort into it (and measure it), you’ll need to set different expectations.

A well-executed April Fool’s campaign could bring benefits in engagement and brand awareness. The idea should be more about making noise, and less about making sales. Later on in this guide, we’ll discuss ways to promote your campaign, but consider whether additional buzz and attention from your customers is worth it on its own before you sign yourself up for whipping up a prank.

If you are on board, then let’s look at the different types of April Fool’s campaign, including some of the best (and worst) examples from recent years.

The classic: A new product or service

Far and away, the most common type of digital April Fool’s prank would fall into the “new product or service” category. If there’s one company that has this tactic down pat, it’s Google, who has been coming up with clever April Fool’s fake-outs for years.

More often than not, the Google annual prank introduces a new item to the Google line of products. Over the last decade, we’ve seen everything from fake alien-interpretation software to the hilarious Google Haptic Helpers:

Part of the reason they’re so successful is because of the nature of the company – it seems like every day Google releases a new product that either changes the game or else fades into nothingness (does anyone still own Google Glass?).

If you’re looking for a fun and relatively simple campaign, this might be your best option. Consider your suite of services and products and consider where you might be able to slip in something just believable enough for people to want to click, share, and shout about your little trick.

How to pull it off

The beauty of this type of prank is that you don’t really need to do too much work, aside from creating some content and rolling it out. With a bit of graphic design, some clever text, and perhaps a silly video, you can easily put up a landing page on April 1st and push it out to your typical promotional channels.

The next level: A real, live, tangible prank

If you have the time and really want to make waves, you could consider actually releasing/showcasing your imagined new product or service. You’ll need a bit more time for planning, and more budget for rolling it out, but this is bound to make a lot more noise than a basic campaign.

At this stage in the game, seeing that it’s early March at time of writing, this will likely only work if your prank revolves around a digital product or service (as opposed to something that actually has to be manufactured).

Consider, for example, the AdBlock prank from 2012 (right around the time when people were really starting to value their ability to block annoying ads online). At the time of their prank, they stayed with the imaginary product route: a new service called “CatBlock” that not only blocked out ads but replaced them with pictures of cats.

Not surprising to anyone who has browsed the internet, the idea was so popular that now, you can actually use CatBlock as a Chrome extension.

How to pull it off

First, talk to your development team or production team (if you have one) and see what is actually feasible. They’ll need to be a big part of the roll-out if this is going to work. You’ll also need to put extra time into drumming up this prank once it’s gone live – if people don’t download it or use it, then your hard work was for nothing.

A word to the wise: Be very careful that the phony product or service you release doesn’t cause actual damage. Google fell victim to this with its infamous “Mic Drop” feature, which it rolled out into literally every Gmail users’ inbox on April 1, 2016. The sneaky little button inserted a .gif of a minion dropping a mike into your email… and it just happened to be right next to the “send” button. Clever? Yes. Interactive? Definitely. Potentially very damaging? Absolutely.


The social media takeover prank

Looking for trouble? Make it double… by bringing your April Fool’s prank beyond your website and onto your social media accounts. Last year, when Pokemon Go madness was waning, the people behind Pikachu came up with a clever way to get attention from their fans and followers: They handed over the keys to their social media pages to the villainous duo Team Rocket.

Needless to say, this prank was pretty obviously fake from the get-go, but it still had their fans and followers riveted, and gave their social pages a big boost.

How to pull it off

If you have a dedicated social media pro on your team (and they have a decent sense of humor) this might be the easiest type of prank on this list to pull off. You just need to decide what kind of “takeover” you want to do. It doesn’t have to be a fictional character, if that doesn’t fit in with your brand.

For example, you could pretend to give your Twitter account over to the CEO’s five-year-old in a misguided nod to the “bring your child to work” concept. Or you could take a more abstract route, and let an imaginary poet post only in limericks all day. Whatever option you choose, make sure you get creative, post a bit more frequently than you normally would, and use your own hashtag to make it easy to track your posts.

Fake news for April Fool’s

Here’s another option that is pretty low effort, but could make a big impact. NPR has perfected the tradition of slipping a fake news story into the newsday on April 1st—from an explosive story about combustible maple trees to a fictional declaration of another presidential run from none other than Richard Nixon in 1992.

Their best example, however, came in 2014, when they released a phony article with the inflammatory title, “Why don’t Americans read anymore?” If you took the time to click on it, you’d be greeted by this text:

What they were betting on (and boy were they right), is that most people would share or comment on the article without reading more than the headline. Not only did they succeed in fooling plenty of their readers, but they also made a good point about the dangers of click-bait.

How to pull it off

You may not be running an enormous news operation like NPR, but if you have a blog on your site, then you do have a news outlet at your fingertips. Though you probably won’t get as much reach as NPR, you can still fool your regular readers, and maybe even reach some more people with a bit of spend on social and a cleverly written EDM

Harmless interactive fun

Worried about actually fooling your fans, but still want to take part in April Fool’s? There are plenty of things you can do to still get attention and spread virality without actually pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes.

In recent years, a number of brands have gone for the safer side of April Fool’s by simply releasing something that is instantly recognizable as an April Fool’s promotion, but also fun and share-worthy.

Once again, we can look to Google for an example of how to execute this type of prank—they have frequently used Google Maps to showcase a bit of harmless and innovative fun. For example, last year, users were treated to a week of nostalgia when they integrated the classic Where’s Waldo game into their satellite services. As a bonus, if you were tired of looking, you could simply say, “Hey Google, Where’s Waldo?” and your smart device would do the hard work for you.

How to pull it off

Once again, this is something you’ll need to run by your development team, as it will take some pre-planned tech work to pull it off. Once that’s done, you’ll need to do the initial promotion, but if you build it into something your customers are already using, you can roll it out without blowing budgets on social media promotion.

Promoting tips for April Fool’s content

As with any smart content campaign, you need to plan the best methods to promote your content. April Fool’s campaigns are unique in one important way—unlike other holiday-based promotions, you can’t hype it before it goes live.

This means most of your efforts around promotion will need to be planned for “day of” marketing, rather than long-term campaigns. Here are a few more things to keep in mind as you plan your pranks:

Social media promotion

The most obvious and easiest place to push your prank is via social media, but unless you routinely get a lot of engagement from organic posts, you’ll need to set aside a portion of your paid media to boost your posts. Start pushing it early in the day on the first of April, because it’s less likely that people have been pranked by someone else and therefore are more likely to fall for yours.

Email promotion

If you have an active emailing list, then it’s a good opportunity to get some click throughs to your prank. Craft a special mail-out to go out (again early in the day) on the first, and be sure to put your prank front and center.

Third-party promotion

If you have any partnerships with other blogs, websites, or platforms that will be willing to share your prank, get in touch with them ahead of time to coordinate. There are also some websites, like this one, that allow you to submit your prank. Despite the retro look of the site, in our experience it can actually generate some decent traffic.

Final tip: The follow up

April 1 is a great opportunity to get creative with your content, but April 2 is equally important to fully execute a successful story. In the day(s) following April 1, you’ll need to not only come clean about the nature of your prank, but also take advantage of the new traffic coming to your site. Some steps to follow:

  1. If you’re creating a landing page for your prank, be ready to replace it with a follow-up page that explains the prank and features any important CTAs or messages you want to convey to visitors.
  2. Maintain a good-natured tone in any follow-up copy. Some people may be feeling a little sore for being fooled, so use your copy to remind them that you are laughing with them, not at them.
  3. Follow up not just on your website, but on any other promotional platforms you used. For example, if you sent out a bunch of prankster tweets, make sure you pin a tweet to the top of your feed for a day or week to let people know it was all in good fun.

Have a favourite April Fool’s joke you’ve seen online, or have other tips for this kind of campaign? Get in touch and let us know!

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